Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Business

Tampa mansions welcome "Bollywood Oscars" elite with open doors and high price tags

TAMPA — Martha Shepley doesn't try to hide her excitement that the international "Bollywood Oscars" are coming to Tampa in April for their first American fete.

Not because she loves India's iconic cinema, as she couldn't name a single film. Instead, she's hoping to enjoy the award-studded weekend for another reason: by turning her Davis Islands mansion into a $20,000-a-week resort.

"It's probably going to be rented by someone who's a director, part of the event, an actor, someone like that," said Shepley, a Tampa real estate agent. "We can have limo services for them, yacht rentals, private planes, nanny services, a chef — and all that's extra, of course."

Luxury homeowners here are eager to give the 60,000 attendees of the International Indian Film Academy Weekend & Awards, perhaps the world's largest celebration of Indian cinema, an American-sized welcome.

So three months before the first glitterati will stroll down the awards' green carpet, they're opening up their doors and pocketbooks to celebrities and cinephiles wanting somewhere homier, and pricier, than a hotel.

Tampa has become well-practiced in shopping its real estate out to deep-pocketed corporate sponsors looking for an especially celebratory stay. For the Super Bowl in 2009, homes across Hillsborough County were rented out for huge parties; one in rural Lutz drew a crowd of 1,000 partygoers as the "House of Hennessy," hosted by the cognac brand.

And many of the thousands of delegates, media personnel and elbow-rubbers in town for the 2012 Republican National Convention crashed in Tampa rental mansions. Perhaps the largest was the $40,000-a-week Davis Islands compound of developer Joel Cantor, a Democratic donor who declared the dollar "bipartisan."

Shepley was among the crowd who profited from the RNC, pocketing $20,000 from renting her Mediterranean-Revival mansion to a private party of four VIPs (whom, even now, she says she is forbidden to name).

So this year, she's going even bigger, advertising a client's Davis Islands estate, with six bedrooms and a 600-bottle wine cellar, for an awards-week rental of $35,000, wine not included.

She has also listed a 1920s Beach Park hacienda, on the market to sell for $799,000, for a $17,500 quick weekend stay.

Hundreds of Tampa hotel rooms, including more than 500 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown, have already been blocked off for the four-day jubilee, from a dance music festival on the downtown riverfront April 23 to the awards show April 26 at Raymond James Stadium.

Organizers of the awards are offering a gilded platter of "VIP Hospitality Packages" for its visiting jet-set crowd. The $25,000 "platinum" package, for instance, boasts three nights at the Hilton, personal car service and a dedicated event chaperone to whisk guests past the tyranny of lines.

But not all of Tampa Bay's offerings cater to India's film elite.

Jayne Lisbeth, 64, and her husband, Tim Gibbons, 65, are looking to rent half of their eclectic split-plan home — which they call the Wren's Nest, for its orbit of songbirds — amid the bungalows of Old Seminole Heights in Tampa.

As opposed to the luxury estates, their price tag is aimed more at the awards' fandom than its famed. Their "Bollywood Special" is advertised on Airbnb, a travel-rental website, at $55 a night.

Lisbeth said they don't know anything about Bollywood, either. But they're fascinated by Indian culture and excited at the possibility of hosting someone they'd otherwise never have a chance to meet.

"It'd be great if we had an Indian person who we could cook with, and who wanted to help teach me to cook," Lisbeth said. "For me, that would be the absolute ideal situation. I would love that."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]

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