A hip outdoor lounge party that began in Sarasota and expanded to St. Petersburg heads to downtown Tampa for the first time on Saturday, a telltale sign that the city center is shedding its dead-after-dark image.
Truckloads of daybeds, couches and sleek tables will fill four blocks outside the Tampa Theatre for Chillounge Night, a South Beach-style party with a fashion show, Brazilian samba parade and performance by Opera Tampa singers.
"It's another example of the cool things you can do in an urban area," said Paul Ayres, marketing director of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which gave logistical support. "Downtown Tampa is becoming a place to do these types of things."
Rainer Scheer, an art gallery owner in Sarasota, founded the event there in 2008 as a way to get through slow times and give people something new and different to do. It caught on quickly and went on the road to St. Petersburg and Fort Myers.
Last year's Chillounge Night in St. Petersburg's Straub Park got good reviews, despite unusually cold weather that kept away a lot of people. Patrons described the vibe as laid back but electric with unique, diverse entertainment. The party returns to the same site Nov. 21.
At Tampa's Chillounge Night, chiseled men painted in gold and silver will carry female models Cleopatra-style in wicker lounge chairs through the crowd to the stage. The fashion show will feature a 27-piece collection of casual, evening and business couture by Sylvio Roubertto Kovacic, a young designer from Germany who lives in Carrollwood.
Film festival executive director Chuck Henson contacted Chillounge organizers after hearing about its success in St. Petersburg and asked them to come to Tampa during the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which continues through Oct. 18 at the Tampa Theatre and Muvico Baywalk 20 in St. Petersburg.
"I thought that adding the element of the Chillounge would be something amazingly over the top and cool — an unofficial celebration of our 20 years," he said.
It wasn't a tough sell, Henson said. Scheer, the founder, was already eying Tampa and saw the film fest as an opportunity to draw more people to Chillounge.
The exposure to downtown will be invaluable, supporters say. Partygoers will likely be a mix of locals living in the new residential towers nearby and suburbanites curious about downtown's evolving scene.
"I bet some of these people haven't been here for years and, by the time they leave, they will be shocked," Ayres said.