ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County leaders say they’re hopeful business will return to the Orange County Convention Center next year.

What You Need To Know

  • County leaders hope to reopen the Orange County Convention Center in 2021

  • Area business owners say the Convention Center's closure has hurt their establishments

Many businesses along International Drive, like The Arabian Nights restaurant, have made their living from the conventions here that have since dried up because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You can see the restaurant it’s a Friday, a Friday night and it’s completely empty,” said Arabian Nights owner Naji Laraj.

The restaurant sits less than a mile away from the Orange County convention center.

Laraj opened it here to take advantage of the business from the Convention Center.

But the coronavirus pandemic chased away the conventions and all the people who would have attended them.

Those people were Laraj’s potential customers.

“Tourists zero, if the convention center doesn’t open soon I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said.

The county has even had to reassign more than a hundred convention center workers to other departments to avoid any layoffs.

But Orange County mayor Jerry Demings remains optimistic.

“But we anticipate that in 2021, we will see recovery with our local economy,” he said.

Demings says they already have promises of business and revenue at the convention center for next year.

“We have already rebooked $400 million worth of shows in terms of economic impact of shows for our convention center, rebooked in 2021 itself,” Demings said.

But 2021 is still 4 months away.

And Laraj says every day the convention center sits empty, so does his restaurant.

“I have over nine employees, I’m paying my employees, I’m losing money every day, I lose about $5,000 every week,” he said.

He just hopes they can keep their doors open until the convention center opens theirs.

Laraj says he’s applied for small business aid but so far has been unsuccessful.

And Demings says he thinks with the amount of property taxes they are able to collect they should be able to avoid layoffs until the end of the year.