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Orlando Sentinel: Destination resorts would bring jobs and revenue

Monday, November 07, 2011

Destination resorts would bring jobs and revenue

Florida is at a crossroads. Our state’s elected officials have a pivotal choice to make this legislative session: welcome destination resorts and the economic benefits they bring, or leave opportunity glimmering on the horizon.

Amid these opportunities are some stark realities. Florida’s economy continues to rely on tourism, sales tax and development revenues. Sharp drops in these revenues have forced deep cuts in state-provided services, such as health care, road building and education.

It has been nearly two years since Florida’s average unemployment rate was below double digits and we are now facing at least another $1.5 billion revenue shortfall. Florida must consider new ways to grow its economic base and create jobs.

Associated Industries of Florida believes the creation of specific and limited destination resorts in South Florida would provide a much-needed boost to Florida’s economy; immediately injecting revenue into state coffers and getting tens of thousands of out-of-work Floridians back on a payroll.

Similar to another Florida favorite — cruise ships — destination resorts would attract new visitors interested in experiencing a variety of amenities including high-end retail, restaurants, spas, entertainment venues and gaming facilities, beach and boating activities, hotel and residential towers, convention space, pools and outdoor recreation facilities.

While gaming facilities are a component of these complexes, they would consume a small portion of the resorts’ square footage. Unlike a Las Vegas-style casino operation, destination resorts are not modeled around, or solely dependent upon, gaming.

These attractions create an overall experience for the guest and are designed to draw out-of-state and international tourists. Projections based on similar models show destination resorts have the potential to bring 10million-plus visitors from outside the state and country, adding billions in new revenue to our state’s economy.

Construction of up to three new destination resorts in South Florida would yield a minimum $7.5 billion in new construction and development investment in addition to land-acquisition costs. These projects would generate $150 million in property taxes, which could be bonded for infrastructure. The airline and hotel industries would see millions in more revenues, which means more jobs for Floridians. Billions of dollars flowing into South Florida would certainly be diffused among local businesses, creating a positive economic ripple effect.

Most important, destination resorts would bring desperately needed jobs to Florida. By building three destination resorts limited to South Florida, we could put paychecks in the hands of 100,000 of the more than 250,000 unemployed people living in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. One of Florida’s hardest-hit construction industries could gain 20,000 to 30,000 jobs.

Getting Floridians off the unemployment rolls should be a priority because of the suffocating unemployment-compensation taxes all employers must pay. State economists project unemployment-compensation taxes will increase to $175 per employee in 2012. The only way to reduce these harmful tax increases for small-business owners is to reduce the number of Floridians receiving unemployment checks. This proposal would do just that.

Destination resorts are the type of high-level, full-experience properties that can flourish in Florida. Given its geographic location, eclectic population and vibrant culture, South Florida is positioned to host this new breed of luxury and entertainment resort. Not only would these projects pay dividends to one of the most economically depressed parts of the state, it makes sense to limit destination resorts to an area that has the right attributes and is the right fit.

No one is suggesting that destination resorts are a panacea for all of Florida’s problems, and arguments that this expands gambling in Florida are a red herring, since gambling already exists in Seminole-run casinos, pari-mutuels and the Lottery.

Embracing what is truly a novel concept, and doing it in a limited, appropriate manner, would play a significant role in stimulating our tourism-reliant economy, restoring funding for programs that benefit all of the state’s residents and employing more Floridians.

Let’s recognize this opportunity for what it is and be the visionaries we must be if we are to put our state back on the path to prosperity.

Brewster Bevis is vice president of external affairs at Associated Industries of Florida.

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