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Welcome center fees are lowered

Hotels and attractions that want their brochures displayed in Florida's state welcome centers will have to start paying for the privilege July 1.

Florida Secretary of Commerce Greg Farmer made the decision Thursday after substantially lowering the price and reaffirming his plan to make the four centers at the state line self-sustaining.

"We're are fully committed to making the welcome centers self-funded," said department spokesman Raphael Marcucci.

Farmer's Division of Tourism first proposed charging $1,152 a year for rack space in the four centers, which are on Interstates 10, 75 and 95 and State Road 231 near Panama City. After protests from many hotels and the Florida Attractions Association, Farmer dropped the rental fee to $80 a year for a spot in each welcome center.

That means a tourist property could have its brochures in all four centers for $320 a year.

Florida spends about $1-million a year to run the centers. The state hoped to get $812,000 from brochure fees. Farmer's decision cut the potential income to $240,000.

He wants to get the rest of the $1-million by selling lottery tickets and souvenirs. He also hopes to charge thousands of hotels for listings in a computerized reservation system that would be installed in welcome centers. Visitors could then make reservations and, with a credit card, even pay for hotel rooms within minutes of entering the state. Hotel rates could be changed daily.

So far, federal highway officials have refused to allow Florida to engage in retail sales activity on federal highways. But state officials think they can overturn the decision, which came after complaints were made by competing lottery retailers.

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