Winter the Dolphin's billion-dollar impact - FOX 13 News

Winter the Dolphin's billion-dollar impact

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CLEARWATER (FOX 13) -

The total local economic impact of "Dolphin Tale", a motion picture featuring the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and its most-famous resident, could approach $5 billion between 2012 and 2016. 

By the end of that period, attendance at CMA could reach 2.4 million visitors and 4,000 new jobs could be created.

Those are the findings of USF-St. Petersburg economists who spent more than a year studying "movie tourism" and "Dolphin Tale" in particular. 

"A movie just goes on and on," explained Dr. Maling Ebrahimpour, Dean of USF-St. Petersburg College of Business. "The original movie came out and you say, ‘okay that's the impact of the movie.'  But no, then there's a DVD, then there's HBO, so it continues." 

In fact, Ebrahimpour thinks the projections may be too low because of a notable lack of data:  the impact of word-of-mouth referrals to the movie and the Clearwater destination. 

"So there's that factor that I don't know how much impact that has," he said.

The forecast might also be too low, because attendance so far this year already matches with that projected for next year.  If the growth curve continues, all of the numbers rise accordingly.

One of those attending Thursday's release of the long-awaited study was Clearwater city manager Bill Horne. 

"Looking at those numbers, I think that will cause us to do even more thinking about OK, how do we handle the impact," he said. "But yeah, I think it's a good problem to have." 

Clearwater Beach is already one of the nation's top destinations but "...you can only get so many people on our roads, you can only get so many people on our recreation surfaces" Horne pointed out.

The study predicted CMA would have 456,000 visitors this year, with their direct and indirect spending reaching $330 million.  By 2016, attendance could be 2.379 million, with a total economic impact of $1.724 billion. 

The total of the five years of impacts is $4.915 billion.

The unusual measure of success is attributed to the unusual nature of the movie:  it is the first to feature a living creature in a motion picture setting closely paralleling real life.  CMA is now midway through a major expansion, and director David Yates said "We're totally out of debt right now." 

A new animal care area scheduled to open within a month could "...almost double or triple the number of animals we can take care of," Yates said. 

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