Osceola County could hit the $50 million benchmark this year in tourist tax revenue, based on collections over the first six months of the fiscal year.
"We're optimistic, I would love for that to happen," Experience Kissimmee CEO DT Minich said. "If we don't quite get there this year, I would expect next year we would."
Just six years ago, the county's tourist tax revenues were at $30.7 million. As Florida has emerged from the recession and Kissimmee has seen a wave of new vacation homes, the county's bed tax hit a record $44.8 million in 2015.
"We're watching trends," Deputy County Manager Beth Knight said. "We make our budget projections based on historical data. In August we'll make a projection based on the data."
So far, that data is showing a nearly 11 percent increase in collections over the same period last year. The county collected $24.9 million between October and March, with March revenues peaking at a record $5.7 million.
"I think we're going to have a good summer," Minich told GrowthSpotter on Thursday. "I think we will see continued growth in inventory. And we've had several properties that were bought and renovated. When that happens, the rates go up. And just an overall strong demand for the exciting things going on at the (theme) parks. So everything's kind of pointed in the right direction."
The county budgeted for $41.8 million in tourism expenditures this year, and that included some high-ticket capital projects, among them a $6 million expansion of Austin-Tindall Regional Park.
This week, county commissioners issued $25 million in tourist tax revenue bonds to pay for the second phase of the Osceola County Conference Center at ChampionsGate. That expansion, first reported in January by GrowthSpotter, will add 64,000 square feet of meeting space plus 36,000 square feet of dedicated outdoor event space.
Osceola Heritage Park also benefited this year from the booming tourism capital fund, with a new scoreboard, ribbon-board lining the arena. And the facility got a new freight elevator.
"That's the kind of improvement visitors don't notice, but what they will see is they don't have people with food carts riding in the elevator with them," Knight said.
The county allocates 45 percent of its tourist tax revenue to Experience Kissimmee, and at the end of the fiscal year the marketing agency will receive a windfall as part of the budgeting "true up."
Knight said Hunden Strategic Partners, the county's sports facility consultant, will make a host of recommendations to the Tourist Development Council next week for capital projects to add in 2017. One recommendation will be to sell the Osceola County Softball Complex on John Young Parkway and build a new, larger complex elsewhere.
The complex has five softball diamonds and hosts numerous tournaments, but it operates at a deficit. Knight said that without adding more fields, the complex has a harder time competing with new facilities like the one in Seminole County.
"There's nothing we can do to improve revenues at that site because it's landlocked," Knight said. "We can't expand it."
She said the county will probably look for a site within the tourism corridor. "Ideally, we want it to be closer to the hotels," she said.
Another major capital project slated for 2017 will likely be filling the drainage pond in front of Silver Spurs Arena to prep that land for future development, she said.