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Florida plans to wow crowd at Olympics

State and private money are being poured into an ambitious sales pitch during the Games in Australia.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000

TAMPA -- Florida's Department of State will send at least two representatives, including Secretary Katherine Harris, to Australia this summer to sell the Sunshine State to fans visiting the Olympic Games.

It will be an expensive pitch for taxpayers: $400,000 of the $650,000 raised for the trip so far has come from the state Legislature or from taxpayer-supported groups such as the Tampa-Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Association.

Earlier this year, the Legislature appropriated $300,000 for the tourism and business pitch. The tourism and convention groups in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando, as well as the Florida Sports Foundation and the University of South Florida, are kicking in a combined $100,000.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates gambling casinos, is the largest private donor so far, contributing $200,000., an Internet-based biotechnical company, has contributed $50,000.

The department's goal is to raise $750,000.

BSMG Worldwide, a New York-based public-relations firm, has been hired by the department to coordinate its Olympic pitch.

That pitch centers on a 6,000-square-foot "Florida World Pavilion," set up on Darling Island near downtown Sydney. A color fact sheet produced for the department says the pavilion will be "an interactive, multi-dimensional, entertaining slice of Florida."

Harris, others in her department, and six to eight members of the Seminole Tribe, traveling at the tribe's expense, will run the pavilion.

"We want to show the world that we're open and ready," Harris said at a news conference.

Harris thinks Florida is the only state that will have such a presence during the Olympics. But that doesn't mean Florida will have an unmatched opportunity to tell visitors about its quest to host the Olympics in 2012.

United States Olympic Committee rules prevent anyone at the pavilion from using it to promote the Olympic bid.

Still, Ed Turanchik, president and chief executive officer of Florida 2012, the not-for-profit organization leading the bid, said the pavilion can only help his efforts.

"We think it's absolutely fabulous," Turanchik said.

But how, exactly, will Floridians know whether it was money well-spent?

Two years ago, Clearwater, with $750,000 in state money, set up a smaller pavilion in Nagano, Japan, site of the Winter Olympics.

Cindy O'Connell, managing director at BSMG, which also coordinated Clearwater's pitch, said Thursday that she could not point to specific tour groups or business contracts that were a direct result of the pavilion.

She said the effort succeeded in telling people about Florida's tourism and business opportunities.

Harris said it is often difficult to measure the success of ventures like the one she'll participate in this summer. She said the department will keep track of the number of stories journalists write about Florida, the number of people who visit the pavilion and the number of business contacts made.

"It'll be about establishing relationships," Harris said.

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