Who books 4,600 hotel nights in Hillsborough? TV commercial crews, and they keep on coming

Wrestling celebrity John Cena is seen during the filming of a national public service announcement on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on June 27, 2016. [Times (2016)]
Wrestling celebrity John Cena is seen during the filming of a national public service announcement on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City on June 27, 2016. [Times (2016)]
Published April 25 2018
Updated April 27 2018

TAMPA — Hillsborough County interim film commissioner Tyler Martinolich has a unique approach to channel surfing.

He searches for two kinds of commercials: those made in his county and those he thinks should have been.

"Television commercials mean money," Martinolich said.

With five months to go in the fiscal year, Hillsborough has already bagged more money off television commercial productions than all last fiscal year.

Yuengling beer, Home Depot and NAPA Auto Parts, for instance, have each had commercials produced in Hillsborough.

Since October, production companies have shot 108 commercials in Hillsborough, spending $4.64 million on payroll, purchases, rentals and about 4,600 hotel nights, according to Martinolich’s Film Tampa Bay office. The office operates under the umbrella of Visit Tampa Bay, the county’s tourism bureau.

In the previous 12 months, 39 television commercials spent $3.15 million and booked about 3,800 room nights.

These are productions that needed Film Tampa Bay permits to work on public property, Martinolich noted. Those made on private property or in studios are not part of the accounting.

"So we know more money was spent here, but not how much," he said.

Pinellas County hasn’t seen as much activity.

Through February, 21 permitted commercials have spent nearly $1.2 million and booked around 780 hotel rooms, according to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission.

In fiscal year 2017, those numbers were 70, $3.1 million and 2,030.

Hillsborough’s jump is not accidental.

RELATED: Hillsborough will think small rather than give up on luring film productions

When Martinolich took the helm of Film Tampa Bay last year, he focused on luring commercials and not Hollywood films, which are difficult to get without the type of state incentive that places like Georgia offer.

"It’s just a different tactic," he said. "I have made efforts to reach out to the local business community to shoot here and not somewhere else."

For instance, a production company was planning to shoot a Tampa General Hospital commercial in Orlando, Martinolich said, but when he heard that a park they needed fell through, he offered Ballast Point and successfully brought nearly $100,000 in production money to the county.

Also helping has been the county’s production program, infused with $500,00 each year. From that pot, production companies that spend at least $100,000 in Hillsborough receive 10 percent back on those county expenditures.

California-based Wild Plum shot a Home Depot commercial in Hillsborough because of that program.

"The locations they were looking for were not unique to Tampa," Martinolich said. "Homes, just homes."

The production company spent $128,000 locally on 11 crew hires and 385 hotel room nights, receiving $12,000 back, according to county records.

Still, Martinolich admits, the economic impact of commercials is low when compared with what Hollywood can bring to the area.

RELATED: Georgia, home of ‘Stranger Things,’ stole Florida productions and now targets its tourism

Florida had a program from 2010 to 2016 that allocated $296 million in tax credits to big budget productions. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the state earned $1.2 billion from total expenditures through those projects.

Twenty-six projects — a mix of TV, movies and video games — made in the central west region of Florida spent nearly $54 million and received $14.5 million in state tax credits. That region includes Hillsborough and Pinellas.

Incentives were offered paying up to 30 percent back on in-state expenditures, with an $8 million per project cap.

The program ended and a new one has not been implemented during an era less friendly to incentives.

"But the future isn’t all bleak," Martinolich said. "Florida, in particular the Tampa area, will be a driver and lead producer of TV commercials."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.