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In a first for the U.S., Bollywood's version of the Oscars coming to Tampa in 2014

TAMPA — The Bollywood Oscars — the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards — is coming to Tampa next June, officials said Friday.

It will be the first time the four-day IIFA gala will be held in the United States.

Tampa's competition for the 2014 event reportedly included Melbourne, Australia, as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls, plus last year's Republican National Convention. For Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Tampa's selection reflects its ability to host huge events and thousands of visitors without a hitch.

"It confirms what we've known all along, and that is we're ready for prime time," Buckhorn said. "We can compete for these international and global events, and we can win."

Details will be worked out in coming months, but organizers expect the awards to book party and entertainment venues throughout the Tampa Bay area.

"I kind of can't believe it," said Shephali Rele, who writes about Bollywood for Khaas Baat, a newspaper for Indian-Americans in Florida. "If they make a significant amount of tickets available to the public, you'll see Indians from across the state and the Southeast wanting to attend."

Buckhorn said the area will extend "the warmest welcome that Tampa can possibly muster" to what are expected to be thousands of visitors, including hundreds of Bollywood stars.

With an estimated global viewership of more than 800 million, the awards weekend "will place unprecedented international attention on Tampa Bay," Tampa Bay & Co. president Santiago Corrada said in announcing the event.

Buckhorn credited the success of the IIFA bid to two things. One, the city handled the GOP convention without problems. Also, the bay area is home to an active and organized Indian-American community of more than 23,500.

"Probably a winning formula," he said.

The Tampa awards weekend will be the 15th annual version of the IIFA celebration. Previously, it has gone to cities such as London, Johannesburg, Toronto, Amsterdam and Bangkok. Local officials say past IIFA weekends have generated in the neighborhood of 24,000 hotel room nights with a local economic impact exceeding $11 million for the host cities.

"By all standards, this is a huge event," said Dr. Kiran Patel, the Tampa cardiologist, philanthropist and insurance entrepreneur who is among the effort's backers.

"To get this to Tampa is really cool because nobody believed it could be done," Patel said. "It's one thing to bid. It's a second to believe in yourself. Now the real work begins."

That is expected to include some help from the public.

No monetary incentive has been discussed, but Patel said city, state and even federal officials will need to help to ensure the event goes off smoothly. He anticipates the IIFA could need assistance with everything from booking event venues to securing travel visas for the influx of tourists — many visiting the area for the first time.

"Tampa, Clearwater, St. Pete, the beaches may not be known to the rest of the world," Patel said. "People will make this a stop instead of glossing over it."

Buckhorn said he expects the city's commitment to consist of in-kind services — "mainly law enforcement" — of the sort needed to host a Super Bowl.

Organizers are looking at many venues for the award ceremony itself, including the area's pro sports stadiums.

Raymond James Stadium would be good, Patel said, except for the chance of rain. That opens the discussion for indoor options like the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Tropicana Field.

As they did during the GOP convention, parties and activities likely would extend from downtown to Ybor City, Buckhorn said. The mix of venues could include the Tampa Convention Center, the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and the Tampa Theatre.

The Indian film industry is huge, turning out 1,255 movies in 2011 — more than Hollywood. (Still, Hollywood's big budgets and high ticket prices generate five times the revenue of Bollywood's $2 billion film industry.)

"Bollywood" originally referred to movies made in Mumbai (formerly called Bombay), but it has become associated with films that can unfold over three hours, with an intermission, combining romance, comedy, action, drama and song-and-dance.

The Indian film industry as a whole also encompasses Kollywood, which turns out Tamil cinema, Tollywood, which makes Telugu films, and independent producers.

This is the first time the Tampa Bay area has tried for the IIFA awards.

Patel's brother-in-law, Lutz real estate agent Chetan "Jason" R. Shah, told the Times last month that a friend in Orlando first raised the idea of pursuing the IIFA awards.

Intrigued, Shah contacted the IIFA and reached out to Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, a booster of international trade who has helped members of the local Indian community find parks where they can play cricket.

That, in turn, led to contacts with Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County's tourist development agency, and Visit Florida. Over the past seven months, Shah has worked on plans and the area's pitch.

Supporters also organized a privately financed trip for an 18-member delegation from Tampa to this year's IIFA Weekend & Awards. The group is expected to return Sunday from Macau, a gaming and tourist resort that is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China.

The IIFA also sent representatives to check out Tampa on at least two occasions.

Buckhorn was not surprised they liked what they saw.

"It just reinforces what we tried to do throughout the RNC," he said, "which is tell the world that, in Florida, there are places other than just Miami and Orlando."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report, which includes information from the Washington Post and Toronto Star.

Tampa in June?

With a monsoon season from June to September, Mumbai might be one of the only places on Earth where a trip to Tampa could seem like a summertime treat. Mumbai had a high of 85 Friday, with haze and a feels-like temperature in the 90s. Said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, "We'll take it anyway we can get it."

In a first for the U.S., Bollywood's version of the Oscars coming to Tampa in 2014 07/05/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 5, 2013 10:50pm]
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