1. Business

Preparations for Bollywood Oscars head into home stretch

TAMPA — If getting ready for the Republican National Convention was a two-year marathon, the countdown to the Bollywood film awards is starting to feel more like a two-week dash.

The April 26 awards show at Raymond James Stadium has about 7,000 tickets remaining for sale. Announcements of Bollywood events are coming out more frequently. And hoteliers are hearing they should expect a big chunk of their bookings 10 to 20 days out.

"Things appear to be moving the way they should be moving," Visit Tampa Bay president and CEO Santiago Corrada said last week. Sure, there are constant changes, local officials say, and, yes, you need to have a lot of flexibility.

But "these are the kinds of conditions you encounter when you move to this level," said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association.

As of last week, Hillsborough had seen more than 10,000 room nights reserved for the International Indian Film Academy's 15th annual Weekend & Awards, scheduled April 23-26.

That's good, Corrada said, but tourism officials are waiting to see whether the total reaches the 20,000 room nights generated by a Super Bowl.

Downtown hotels are nearly full, based on current reservations, and hotels in West Shore are starting to pick up business from out-of-town groups and media. (So far, organizers in Mumbai have accredited 375 journalists for the event and expect 500.) It's possible that hotels on the Pinellas beaches and in Orlando will get more room nights than Hillsborough officials expected.

"I think things are starting to move a little bit," said Pam Avery, who chairs Visit Tampa Bay's board and is general manager of the Holiday Inn Tampa Westshore-Airport. "I wouldn't say they're on fire by any stretch of the imagination."

But a late surge can be the rule when a big show — like last year's Kenny Chesney concert, which drew 47,500 to Raymond James Stadium — comes to town.

"We always end up full," Avery said, "and it's always in the last four or five days that it happens."


In other ways, the run-up to the IIFA awards has been anything but typical.

"This event has not been the norm, and it changes almost daily," said Tampa Convention Center director Rick Hamilton, who has worked on everything from the RNC to NASCAR events to the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. "I've never seen anything quite like it."

A significant change to the schedule has helped make for a highly fluid planning process.

Originally, the awards were scheduled for mid June. Late last year, organizers decided to move them to April. There were a couple of reasons.

One, demand for tickets was high. But once organizers put a big stage in their original venue, the Tampa Bay Times Forum, there would have been room for a crowd of only about 8,000 to 9,000. So they moved the awards show to the much bigger Raymond James Stadium.

And once IIFA decided to hold the show outside, it made sense to shoot for April, when there would be less chance of rain.

That compressed the schedule and, in turn, touched off other changes.

IIFA organizers had wanted to hold an exhibition cricket match, but scrubbed the idea once the main show was booked at Raymond James Stadium. They also talked about holding dozens of "buzz events," but that was before everything got moved up two months.

"The timetable was shrunk, so a lot of activity had to be suspended," said Lutz real estate agent, Chetan "Jason" Shah, who was heavily involved in the early work to persuade IIFA to choose Tampa.

Still, organizers continue to add to the itinerary. On Friday, IIFA announced that actor and director Anupam Kher will premiere his short film I Went Shopping for Robert De Niro and conduct an acting workshop for University of South Florida students on April 24.

Tampa officials say plans also are coming together for a Bollywood dance music festival, IIFA Stomp, the evening of April 23 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa. Free and open to the public, IIFA Stomp is expected to draw 4,000 to 6,000 people.

Another event, the IIFA Rocks live music and fashion show, has been moved from the USF Sun Dome to a smaller exhibition hall at the convention center.

The Sun Dome seats more than 10,000, but organizers are expecting IIFA Rocks, a private, invitation-only event, to have a crowd of about 2,500, so a smaller, more intimate setting made sense, said Andre Timmins, a founder and director of IIFA's parent company, Wizcraft International Entertainment, based in Mumbai.

The convention center also is the site of IIFA's two-day global business forum, which will feature corporate heavyweights like Tata Motors president Ranjit Yadav and Infosys executive chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy.

"We've got an opportunity with an audience that is our guest to establish relationships," giving "us a head start on competing with communities around the country," Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said.

Last week, the City Council approved waiving the city's $50,375 rent for IIFA's use of the convention center. The waiver is consistent with the city's policy of providing in-kind contributions of police, fire rescue and city facilities to high-profile events like the Super Bowl.

"That's our way of being helpful to an event that will in the long run raise Tampa's international exposure," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "Not many other events that we do 800 million people will watch, so I think it's a good trade-off."


Eight hundred million is the estimate of the IIFA awards show's global television audience.

How many people will be inside Raymond James Stadium is still to be determined.

As configured for the IIFA awards, RayJay will have about 28,000 seats available, with 3,000 reserved for sponsors and VIPs. As of last week, about 17,500 tickets had been sold, Timmins said.

Organizers expect about 5 percent of their fans to come from India, with another 40 percent from the Tampa Bay area, 20 to 25 percent from other parts of the United States and the rest from Canada and other countries.

That said, organizers have noticed differences between Tampa and some of the other cities that have hosted the awards. In past host cities — a group that includes Amsterdam, Toronto and Bangkok — direct flights from India were not an issue.

But flying from India to Tampa requires a change of planes, which makes the trip a little more involved. Even flying from Los Angeles does not include a lot of direct-flight options.

Still, Timmins has done the awards enough to be confident about turnout, and he expects as many spectators for IIFA's green carpet spectacle outside Raymond James Stadium as inside for the show.

If that sounds like a lot, Timmins recalls how in 2005 an Amsterdam police official laughed and said no way that many film fans would show — until he saw the crowd.

"Indians," Timmins told the cop. "We worship our stars."

And that's what he expects again here. The planning, the ticket sales, the room reservations, the travel visas, the stadium and the creative content of the show — all are looking good, Timmins said. The bay area's reception has been warm, and he is hoping a lot of locals come out to see Bollywood stars and get a sense of India's culture.

"At the end of the day, what we need to do is deliver a great, spectacular show and deliver to Tampa and to America something that nobody has seen," Timmins said. "And that's what we're going to do."