Pinellas Film Commissioner’s French Riviera spending now target of Florida House Speaker inquiry

(Courtesy Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater)

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Pinellas Film Commissioner Tony Armer claims his annual visits to the Marche Du Film trade show on the French Riviera, financed with bed taxes, will finally bear fruit September 9th when a British filmmaker flies here to spend $1 million shooting a movie called Dead Ringer.

“It’s a UK based project and I met him in Cannes and we’ve been trying to hash out the details and trying to get him here,’” Armer told 8 on Your Side.

The trouble is that as of now, filmmaker Amar Adatia will land with high hopes, a script and a cast, but little else.

As of Wednesday, there are no Pinellas film permits filed, no signed production agreement with Pinellas County and no indication that Adatia has nailed down a production crew and locations for his million dollar shoot.

The City of Clearwater, where Adatia plans to shoot at least part of his film, wasn’t even aware he was coming until 8 on Your Side started asking questions. Now, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is asking questions of his own about how Armer spends bed tax dollars to promote film business in Pinellas County.

Meanwhile, Armer is under intense pressure to deliver movie business after repeatedly claiming that he has secured $11 million worth of film shoots during his annual two week trips to Cannes. Promises that numerous movie productions are “already in the pipeline” are not backed by so much as one signed commitment from any filmmaker to spend money shooting a movie here.

So far, Adatia’s “Dead Ringer” is as close as Armer has come to delivering the goods.

The Pinellas County Attorney is reviewing an unsigned production agreement that would give Adatia a $100,000 cash incentive in exchange for spending $1 million in Pinellas County.

In a memo, Armer’s boss David Downing, the Executive Director of Visit St.Pete/Clearwater claims Adatia’s proposed $1 million film shoot “calculates to a total estimated impact of $5 million to the County.”

8 on Your Side’s investigation reveals that over the past three years, Armer has spent more than $128,000 in Cannes promoting Pinellas with trade show smooth talk, slick brochures and in one case, a $14,000 Cote D’ Azur cocktail party for 150 guests, financed with bed tax dollars.

Armer’s frequent flying to the French Riviera detailed in our news reports has now caught the attention of Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is no fan of spending tax dollars to promote tourism—much less paying for cocktail parties in Cannes.

Legislative staffers are now pouring over Armer’s financial records and Corcoran is running out of patience for a return on investment from the $11 million worth of film productions gleaned from Armer’s French connection—money that Armer and his Pinellas tourism promotion boss David Downing keep insisting are “in the pipeline.”

“It’s in the pipeline, that’s the buzzword for ‘we haven’t seen it, we’re never going to see it,’” Corcoran told 8 on Your Side.  “We’re done within the pipelines. We want to see actual hard dollars and if you’re not creating hard dollars wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, not only on a credit card, but on trips to go to the Cannes film festival, it’s disgraceful. It shouldn’t be happening.”

Armer urges patience.

“Well again, we’re working on developing all of these projects that I’ve met and all the connects that I met while I was there,” Armer told us. “And if we have a couple of them, hopefully, fingers crossed, happen by the end of this year, you’ll be the first person we invite on the set. I’m working hard every day.”

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