Pinellas film commission to ask for bigger budget to lure studios

For a good chunk of the month of May, the block around the Old Northeast Tavern in St. Petersburg was turned into a movie set. 

Robert Wareham owns the restaurant and said they helped feed the crew for a film which stared Harry Connick Jr. 

“We sent pizzas down from the pizza shop and some of the support staff would eat here and there,” Wareham said. 

Pinellas County wants even more studios to shoot here. The region is already playing a backdrop to six feature films in the last year. Tony Armer, Pinellas County Film Commissioner, says that means a lot of action for businesses like Wareham's.

“They’re booking hotel rooms, they are hiring local crew, they’re going to local restaurants,” Armer said. 

The Pinellas Film Commission says production companies are increasingly interested in the region, not only because of its beauty, but also tax incentives.  

A production company can get a 10% reimbursement if they prove to the county they’ve spent money locally.

“We don’t give the money in advance, they come, they spend it, they prove they spend it,” Armer said.

The county set aside half a million dollars for the marketing program, but the amount turned in has exceeded their budget by around $300,000, so next year, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Film Commission is asking for a budget of $1.7 million.  Armer says it pays off in other ways – think tourism. 

“There was a couple that had seen Safety Harbor in a movie, they Googled it and said we’d love to go there,” Armer said. 

While Wareham says it’s an overall good investment for his restaurant, he says there are some drawbacks. For instance, he says lack of parking did push away some of his regulars.

“It’s always positive, but there’s also positives and negatives to these sorts of things too,” he said. 

County leaders will consider all of that as the budget to attract more production companies is expected to triple.