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Winter’s 'Dolphin Tale' Could Net $5 Billion for Clearwater Area

"Dolphin Tale" generated thousands of visitors to the area as well as a possible $5 billion in economic impact over the next five years, according to a study by the USF St. Petersburg College of Business and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

It’s called movie-induced tourism.

It is what brings nearly 70,000 people a year to see a baseball field in the middle of the corn in Iowa even 20 years after "Field of Dreams" was released.

And it is what is expected to bring more than 800,000 people through the front doors of the next year and a possible $5 billion in total economic impact for the area over the next five years, according to an analysis by the USF St. Petersburg College of Business released Thursday.

“I believe it will be the No. 1 movie all-time for tourism,” said David Yates, Clearwater Marine Aquarium president. Yates hopes the study serves as a catalyst for lawmakers to make a commitment to funding for movie incentives.

The analysis forecasts approximately 800,000 visitors to the aquarium next year and estimates 2.3 million by 2016. Because of these visitors, the local economy would see a boost of approximately $580 million in 2013 with gradual increases each year, with an estimated $1.7 billion impact in 2016.

The 20-page study took about nine months to complete. It used detailed information culled from various economic indicators since the movie's November release.

Riley's study, used for part of the analysis, uses information from 12 movies and their respective locations. The move locations show an increase in tourism for about four years with a decline after that.

It also uses another method.

"Our forecast model finds a larger amount of growth after the first year with respect to that of Riley's, but the growth rate declines after the third year," according to the report. "However, if another movie-related event occurs, such as the release of a sequel or a TV series, values for forecasted visitors can be calculated, which would reflect an additional increase in visitors."

But none of it would have been possible without some help from the state.

Andrew Kosove makes movies all over the country with his company Alcon Entertainment and said that contrary to popular belief, for the most part, making them is a small-margin business.

He said the movie would not have been made had it not been for the $5 million in state incentives that defrayed some of the production costs.

“States that step up and make it easy really move the needle,” Kosove said.

Kosove said what really enhanced Clearwater's economic impact is that "Dolphin Tale" takes place where Winter actually lives and the city is already a tourist destination.

Kosove said that while 9 million people saw the movie in North American theaters, countless others have seen the movie on DVD or can now see it on television.

Between about $40 million making the movie and another $60 million marketing it globally, Kosove called it a $100 advertisement for Clearwater.

“This is ongoing promotion for the area,” Kosove said.

Winter is a piece of the tourism puzzle that attracts 86 million visitors to Florida each year. Tourism in the Tampa Bay area has spiked directly because of the "Dolphin Tale" movie, Yates said.

Aquarium visitor numbers have  since the movie released, which is another trend researchers studied to forecast their estimates.

Researchers looked at visitor numbers from 1999 through 2012, making sure to distinguish tourists from the visitor numbers.

The study said that nearly 73 percent of aquarium visitors are coming to the area specifically to see Winter because of the "Dolphin Tale" movie. These visitors spend about $648 each. And for every 85 tourists, a job is created in Florida, Yates said.

A couple of Clearwater businesses have had to expand because of the wave of success from "Dolphin Tale."

Bob Longenecker, president of the Clearwater Jolley Trolley, said increased rider numbers has helped the commuter service expand.

Longenecker said the CMA Express service takes about 40,000 guests a month between Winter’s "Dolphin Tale" Adventure downtown and the Island Estates location. He said ridership spiked to 88,000 in July.

Tony Starova, who owns a pizza shop a block from the downtown attraction has also seen an increase in business.

He said he served 41,000 people last year. Already he has fed 39,000 through 2012. He has hired five more employees and is looking to expand his menu.

Starova is also adding a downtown Dunedin location and opening a beer bar next to the Cleveland Street pizza parlor.

“(Winter’s story is) inspiring people as close as Cleveland Street,” Starova said.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium Visitors

  • 2006: 78,000 
  • 2009: 155,000 
  • 2010: No figures available
  • 2011: 214,000
  • 2012: 750,000
Merrill August 17, 2012 at 12:59 PM
$5 BILLION!?!? Wow....even with only that "penny for Pinellas" program 5 BILLION would go a long way towards feeding the 25-30% of children who go hungry every day in this area! Or to resolve the homeless problem, provide affordable housing, help uninsured wiuth medical costs (Clearwater Free Clinic) etc. what would REALLY be done with so much more $$.?????????????????
sora9508 August 17, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I think the money should go of course to the improvement of social programs that will get people healthy and employed and off the streets...also, to improve the whole look of clearwater...driving from Tampa intl to Clearwater should be a beautiful and pleasant drive with landscape., streetscape improvements...I live on S Missouri ave and although it has improved significantly over the last 3 years, for a major drive through, business locale, it should definitely be improved as well as all the surrounding streets...let the money go back to the people and the city!
Michael D. August 17, 2012 at 02:29 PM
The $5 billion is total impact not what our city government will be receiving. The money will help boost the ailing economy in our area. But the extra money will be helpful in a number of areas, but it has many areas it needs to be spread across.
GaryFla August 17, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Love how Merrill and sora think by throwing more money into social programs it will solve the problem. They proffer no solutions otner than spending more on social programs that aren't working now. Lack of education, breakdown of family values, entitlements (so called) - these are some of the real societal problems.
InsiderMyself August 17, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Ok, now can we follow the money?? Really, no one watches the mayor or city council. Certainly not under Hibbord! And the future isn't looking so good. So, where's the money?

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