Clearwater Beach prepares for ‘Winter’ guests

CLEARWATER BEACH — The cast and crew of “Dolphin Tale 2” have begun to trickle into town to work on the sequel to the hit 2011 family drama inspired by the story of Winter, the injured dolphin that was fitted with a prosthetic tail and rehabilitated at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The original cast including Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman will reprise their roles in the new movie.  Filming is set to begin in October and is expected to wrap up in January. 
The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce is busy filling “welcome bags” to present to the cast and crew that will include coupons, discounts and incentives from local businesses.
“The response from the community has been wonderful,” said Darlene Kole, chamber president. “So far we have over 20 different items to include in the bags.”
The Hyatt Regency resort, Beachcomber restaurant, Starlite Cruises and The Lobster Pot Bistro are among the local businesses that have contributed to the chamber’s welcoming efforts.
“‘Dolphin Tale 2’ will be an enormous economic impact for the whole community,” Kole said. “It will provide worldwide recognition to the area and highlight the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and all they do for the rescue and rehabilitation of sea life.” 
Kole said about 250 members of Alcon Entertainment’s production company are expected to be in the area.
“They will be staying all over the place,” she said. “They will rent homes, apartments, condos and hotel rooms.” Some even will be enrolling their children in school.
The city of Clearwater isn’t the only government laying out the welcome mat. Last July, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced that $5 million from the Florida Families First general fund will pay for part of the film’s production costs. Scott said the new movie will generate economic activity in the Clearwater area and create jobs for Florida families.
The original film reportedly brought $17 million to the state and put 1,300 Floridians to work as crew members, actors and extras.
Last month, the production company secured a lease for 42,000 square feet on the ground floor at the Harborview Center in downtown Clearwater to use as its base of operations.  Much of the filming will take place at Clearwater Marine Aquarium across the Memorial Causeway Bridge on Island Estates.
The sequel will continue with Winter’s story and introduce Hope, an orphaned bottlenose dolphin recovered in the same general area as Winter: the Indian River Lagoon System on Florida’s east coast. Hope, now 2, was founded stranded and trying to nurse off her dead mother.
The baby was brought to the aquarium, a working marine animal hospital, where she was bottle-fed and has bonded with Winter and Panama, the facility’s other resident female dolphin.
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