Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Bollywood Oscars advance team scouts Tampa Bay venues

TAMPA — Ten months out, an advance team from the International Indian Film Academy spent last week in the Tampa Bay area scouting locations and hotels for next year's "Bollywood Oscars," and they liked what they saw.

"We're very much on track," said Andre Timmins, a director of Wizcraft International Entertainment, the Mumbai-based company that puts on the multiday extravaganza. "We feel this will be one of our very best IIFAs to date."

The IIFA's signature green carpet will go down at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, from which the 15th annual Indian film industry awards show will be broadcast to 800 million viewers in 108 countries.

Raymond James Stadium is being looked at for an exhibition cricket match featuring a couple of Bollywood movie stars along with top players from India, Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa and the West Indies — if you know the sport, think Brett Lee, who has come twice to the IIFA.

"It's fun," Timmins said. "It's a picnic for 30,000 people, 40,000 people."

The University of South Florida Sun Dome could host a concert and organizers have put holds on an exhibition hall, two ballrooms and nine meeting rooms at the Tampa Convention Center for June 12-14. Plans are still coming together, but organizers have told the convention center they might use the waterfront facility to hold business meetings, accommodate overflow audience from the forum or set up locations where award winners could do interviews.

The advance team has had meetings in both Hillsborough and Pinellas.

Leading up to the 2014 awards weekend, the IIFA plans to do 56 "buzz events" across a range of interests: film, fashion, music and business. Look for 120 CEOs of Indian companies to be in town, Timmins said, from sectors such as health, tourism and media and entertainment.

"We're looking at bringing in, you know, the big boys from India," he said. "And I think that's where the legacy is going to be left, is from the business."

During a brief interview Friday in the lobby of the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, Timmins mused on the possibility of doing dancing competitions or cooking contests featuring Bollywood stars. The IIFA sends the awards show to a different country every year, and this will be the first in the United States, so he expects some cross-pollination with the American film industry in Hollywood.

With up to 50,000 or 60,000 visitors in the area for the IIFA, local officials are ramping up plans to organize Super Bowl-style security, traffic management and the logistics of moving lots of Indian film fans from venue to venue.

"Better than I expected," County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who helped recruit the event, said of preparations so far. "We're happy that it's coming next year, but we've got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time."

At this point, officials haven't had any surprises or encountered unusual challenges.

"It's nothing we haven't done many times over and are happy to do again," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who met with the IIFA team last week.

Buckhorn expects the city will have some IIFA-related costs, but he predicts the event won't be nearly as extensive or time-consuming as last year's Republican National Convention. By comparison, the city had $1.2 million in expenses associated with hosting Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.

"It's not going to be much different from what we provide for the Super Bowl — largely security-related, predominantly police and to a lesser degree fire rescue," Buckhorn said. "There will be some traffic coordination as well as logistics of moving people around."

Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough's nonprofit tourism development agency, is handling much of the advance work with local officials. While it's a new event, Visit Tampa Bay president Santiago Corrada brought a lot of big-event experience when he came over from his job as chief of staff at Tampa City Hall in May. At the city, he coordinated preparations for the Gasparilla pirate invasion, Super Bowl XLIII and most recently the RNC.

As it did with the Super Bowl and the RNC, the city has begun holding meetings of department directors and key personnel to plan for the event. Corrada has met with police and local transportation officials and talked to officials in Toronto, which hosted the event in 2011. Visit Tampa Bay is helping to request visas for the IIFA's people, and Corrada expects the group's visits to become more frequent in coming months, with staff setting up shop full time in Tampa at some point.

"The window to put this thing on is a short window," Corrada said, but "planning is on target. It's going very, very well."

At the same time, organizers with the local host committee are working with the IIFA and getting ready for some 600 student volunteers expected to help make the event possible. The host committee also is thinking of doing something IIFA-related at Gasparilla, the Florida Strawberry Festival and the Florida State Fair, said the committee's Chetan "Jason" Shah.

While organizers are hitting bigger venues this trip, the IIFA's events are expected to require a lot of venues, including the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. When approving a plan for future road work near the Straz, Tampa officials recently made sure the construction wouldn't start until after the center's "planned Bollywood event."

Other venues are standing by and would love to host an IIFA-related event.

"They know we're interested," said Jill Witecki, marketing director for the Tampa Theatre.

The local interest and hospitality is something that's come through clearly to Timmins and his colleagues.

"We've never received such a welcome," he said. "Ultimately, whatever you do, it's about the people. You can come into New York or come into Sydney and have the harbor and have the bridge, but if the people don't have a heart, nothing can work. From the venues to the production guys to the Indian community at large, they're all excited, and I think back home our film industry is extremely excited to come to Tampa."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.

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