Orlando hotelier Harris Rosen has made his reputation and his millions, so you think he would chill-out a little. Never. Once again, Rosen is lashing out at the local political establishment over one of his favorite pet peeves: using hotel occupancy tax dollars to build civic monuments rather than to promote the area's tourism industry.
His latest attack came this week in the form of a four-page letter to local politicos demanding that they at least rethink their plans to spend $500 million on things like a new arena and a performing arts center. As Rosen contends, Orlando-area occupancy has slipped from 80 percent in 1996 to about 68 percent last year. (As some have pointed out, some of that occupancy has leaked into the timeshare, condo and private residence segments of the business and isn't really lost to the local tourism industry. But there is no denying that Central Florida has lost some of its tourism magic in recent years and needs a healthy dose of promotion to regain its luster.)
Nonetheless, Rosen has a good point: Hotel occupancy tax should only be used to promote local tourism. Period. These pools of fundsÃ¢€”which can be substantial in an area like Central FloridaÃ¢€”should never be used as a private slush fund politicians can dip into to spend on any pet project they like.
I hope Harris never gives up the fight.