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Tourist promoters give boost to Tarpon Springs documentary

The television program tops a list of tourist marketing opportunities to receive backing by a Pinellas County group.

By MARK ALBRIGHT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


CLEARWATER -- Pinellas County tourism promoters have agreed to help pay an Orlando filmmaker to produce an hourlong public television documentary on the Tarpon Springs sponge industry.

The deal, which still must be affirmed by the full Pinellas County Tourist Development Council and the County Commission, would provide the city of Tarpon Springs with $150,000 to hire Eagle Productions of Orlando to produce the show. City officials, who have seen their town's Greek heritage intertwined with the sponge industry for almost a century, hope the program will air on Public Broadcasting System stations.

A tourist council committee Monday rated the program a top priority as it chops a list of $16-million worth of requests for new tourist marketing opportunities to $500,000. All the money comes from a 4 percent tax on hotel bills.

Eagle, which has done three other documentaries, has a letter of intent from PBS Plus to offer the film to more than 300 public television stations for airing whenever the individual stations choose. The city of Tarpon Springs has agreed to pay for the film's premier. But the tourist council committee said the producers must find $50,000 more in contributions elsewhere to get the county's $150,000.

The other big item to make the tourist promotion budget Monday was $150,000 to wine and dine about 1,000 travel industry executives during the annual Florida Huddle. The trade show is a gathering of about 350 tour operators who specialize in Florida vacations, 100 travel writers and salespeople from 450 Florida hotels, attractions and destinations. It runs Jan. 23-25 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The purpose of the trade show is dealmaking. But Pinellas officials see a chance to showcase what their county offers visitors after the business sessions and sponsored events end.

The tourist council paid about $100,000 to sponsor the event, which is run by a private company and was staged in Orlando for the past four years. The $150,000 investment in after-hours entertainment would be in addition to that.

While the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Beaches chambers of commerce proposed to stage the after-hours events, some committee members objected to a countywide event being staged only in downtown St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. Florida Huddle participants will be staying in three south Pinellas hotels. But the committee said the tourist council should control the events and spread them around because it is paying for them.

- Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

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