PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Pinellas County Film Commissioner Tony Armer has rung up more than $390,000 on his county credit card since taking on that role three years ago.
That’s an average of more than $11,000 a month for travel, meals and entertainment in pursuit of boosting local movie making business. Armer’s list of expenses ranges from $384 for a wine purchase on the French Riviera to $600 at Tampa’s Mise En Place restaurant and $171 at the Peltz Famous Brand Shoes store in Clearwater.
The Tourist Development Council oversees the budget that Armer works under, and Wednesday TDC member Tim Bogott — who also runs the Tradewinds resort — wasn’t troubled at all to hear about Armer’s $390,000 credit card spending.
“If that is correct that is not an inappropriate amount if we ultimately realize a large film in Pinellas County,” Bogott said.
Armer is spending public money on his county-issued credit card at ten times the rate of his film commissioner predecessor Jennifer Parramore who retired in 2014. Parramore’s total spending over a 39-month period amounted to $42,000 compared to Armer’s $390,000 over a 35-month period.
We’d like to ask Armer what the public is getting in return for all of his spending but Armer’s boss David Downing at Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater who likes to boast about his agency’s transparency has banned Armer from speaking to us. Downing’s Media Director Leroy Bridges told us weeks ago we are “never ever going to interview Tony Armer.”
Downing is apparently upset that we reported Armer spent $128,000 over the past three years during his annual spring trips to the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera without any tangible return on investment. Armer has nothing to show for those trips in the way of movie contracts, written guarantees or other evidence of movie maker commitments to shoot films in Pinellas as a result of his annual trips to Cannes.
This year, Armer threw a $14,000 cocktail party at Cannes but the county refuses to disclose the 150 member guest list. Downing insists a number of movie deals hatched on the French Riviera are coming and urges patience.
“We have 11 million dollars worth of projects in the pipeline to come to the destination,” Downing told the TDC Wednesday. “That’s how this business works. When we make a deal to come to the destination, that doesn’t meet next week or next month.”
Some members of the Pinellas Tourism Development Council share Downing’s disdain for our 8 On Your Side investigation of Armer’s spending practices.
“I deeply resent the fabricated stories that have been on television about our film commissioner,” said Pinellas Commission Chair Janet Long at a TDC meeting Wednesday.
After the meeting, Long refused to elaborate on what part of our stories she believes are fabricated.
“You don’t tell the truth and you’re a bully,” Long told me.
Neither Downing nor Armer can point to tangible evidence that Armer’s efforts on the Riviera have paid off for the county with any movie deals. Downing pointed us to a film professor in Nashville who wants to shoot a movie in Pinellas next year. The professor told us he’s just completed the first draft of a script but still doesn’t have a firm commitment from his financial backer based in London.
Regardless of whether that deal or any others in the “pipeline” are real or just wishful thinking, Armer is already planning his next bed tax-funded trip to the French Riviera with the TDC’s blessing.
“We’ve sent Tony there we’re very pleased with the results and I thank the board again for approving next year as well because we see great opportunity there,” Downing told TDC members Wednesday.
No doubt, Armer will bring his county credit card.
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