Thursday, February 22, 2018
News Roundup

Sue Carlton: Look out Bollywood, here comes Tampa

Here is something to like about Tampa and surrounding environs: While we are not given to giving ourselves airs, we get pretty defensive when national wags start making Tampa jokes.

Because secretly, we think we're worth it.

We, or some of us anyway, thought we were deserving of hosting a Summer Olympics. So what if the games actually went to — where was it? London? Whatever.

TV types in New York and D.C. rolled their eyes at the idea of a Republican National Convention here. We made that look as smooth as a Sunday drive across the Skyway.

Super Bowls? Yawn. Been there a few times now.

Tampa not-so-secretly thinks of itself as the best place for the Rays to play, if only we can stay patient. We're even willing to sell ourselves cheap, if you call more than $6 million in taxpayer money cheap, to reel in a Bass Pro Shops in all its taxidermied glory.

Because, to paraphrase that L'Oréal ad with a saucy toss of our hair, we're worth it.

So is it really so strange to think of Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham — whose own home, he will tell you, resembles a Bass Pro store down to the dozens of once-alive-and-now-stuffed critters that inhabit it — as our own international diplomat?

As of this writing, the commissioner and an impressive contingent of tourism officials and people from Tampa Bay's Indian community are in Macau, a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, hoping to land us the International Indian Film Academy's big award show next year.

That's right — the Bollywood Oscars, right here in Tampa, bringing thousands of people, filling our hotels, restaurants and venues from Ybor City to the beaches. (The commissioner would probably also want you to know this international mission is being paid for by private donations and not by you. Because we are that kind of town, too.)

It would be huge. It would be fun. It would put Tampa on the global map in ways preferable to being that American city famous for its strip clubs, or alternatively, where Debra Lafave taught middle school.

Okay, sobering moment here:

The Bollywood Oscars have never been to America, which technically has cities bigger, possibly more cosmopolitan than our own. They have been held in Toronto, Johannesburg, Amsterdam, Bangkok, and yes, our Olympic nemesis, London. (One day, London, one day …)

For next year's event, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Melbourne, Australia, are mentioned.

But I ask you — does downtown Melbourne sport a beer can building?

"It's going to be difficult," Higginbotham conceded earlier this week. "But there is an interest in the U.S. and particularly the Tampa Bay area."

Higginbotham, who has become focused on our potential for international impact and even helped find local places to play cricket, sounds so optimistic you can't help think how cool this could be.

And no matter what happens, we get exposure as a stopover, a destination and a place to make movies, too, he says.

"The worst that's going to happen out of this," Higginbotham says, is enhancing "our footprint on the international scene."

One thing we know how to do around here is dream big.

Bollywood, here we come.

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