WILMINGTON -- Monday was a big day in the city of Wilmington, one that's been in the works for years. City officials broke ground for a new convention center. The ground-breaking officially took place at four p.m. Mayor Bill Saffo was clearly excited that this day had finally come. Saffo mentioned the more than 1,200 jobs and tax revenue that the center will bring to the city. Saffo says the room occupancy tax, which is paying for construction, has already exceeded projections for this year. Dale smith from the convention center task force says the task force has two jobs: to advise city council, as well as inform the public. Smith says the convention center is being built with input from the public. Funding for the project first came about in 2003 when the North Carolina state legislature created the three percent room occupancy tax that is paying for construction. The mayor's convention center task force was created that same year. The location was selected in 2004 and that was the year negotiations with developers started. Then in 2005 Armada Hoffler was approved to build a Marriott and convention center. A lawsuit in 2005 halted plans for a while. Local hotels filed the suit claiming it was unconstitutional to build the convention center with tax dollars then lease it rent-free to a private entity. The city settled in 2006 in hopes of moving forward with the project. This past May the city pulled out of its deal with Armada Hoffler after the company said it wouldn't be able to build a full-service hotel. After that, the city solicited new hotel proposals. The city is still in talks with two of those companies. A city spokesperson says if an agreement can't be made with one of those companies, requests may be sent out again.
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