Celebrities invade Orlando for NBA All-Star Game - Orlando Sentinel

February 22, 2012|By Shannon Owens and Sara K. Clarke, Orlando Sentinel

Mary J. Blige is staying in a downtown Orlando penthouse. At least one celebrity is renting a furnished house in Isleworth for $27,000 for two nights. Another star is bunking in a four-bedroom home in Winter Park for $30,000 for two nights.

And you can hardly rent a black luxury car.

With the NBA All-Star Game in Amway Center this weekend, Central Florida is bracing for an onslaught of celebrities and VIPs.

Top-selling recording artists Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Lil Wayne are among a host of big names scheduled to make appearances at venues across Orlando.

Add to that the nearby Daytona 500 on Sunday, plus Disney's popular Princess Half Marathon this weekend, which boasts participants such as ESPN anchor Sage Steele and WNBA player Lindsey Harding, and this promises to be a busy weekend for fans and celebrities gallivanting about Central Florida.

So busy, in fact, that the city is experiencing a shortage of black luxury cars — a common request of celebrities.

"It's bad right now," said Willie Fisher, who is managing more than a dozen star-studded events with his company Front-Line Promotions.

Sunday's NBA All-Star Game is one of the nation's most popular sporting events besides the Super Bowl, and Central Florida is planning to roll out its own red carpet for public — and private — events at Orlando-area clubs, hotels, event centers and even an airport.

The Ritz-Carlton — known to be a favorite brand of Kobe Bryant — has seen demand for its suite rooms. The $10,000-a-night Royal Suite, which comes with a 24-hour butler, is booked. So are the hotel's two presidential suites, which go for $7,500 a night.

The hotel, naturally, won't say who's staying there.

"The reason why these guests choose to stay with us is because they know that we're going to protect their privacy," said hotel spokeswoman Michelle Valle. Staff has training from the first days on the job on how to handle VIPs: no autograph or photo requests permitted.

But celebrities don't have to settle for luxury hotels.

The Vue fielded offers of up $20,000 a night for its penthouses but couldn't accommodate the requests because its condo documents don't allow penthouses to be rented by the night, said Cristian Michaels, director of sales and marketing for The Vue.

Mall at Millenia's Gucci store has flown in extra staff from across the country to help meet the expected onslaught of customers in town for the festivities, manager Jorge Cruz said. He wouldn't confirm whether his store had any private-shopping sessions scheduled for celebrity clientele but said the employees often deliver products to celebrity VIPs at their respective hotels.

Some high-profile customers might choose to skip the malls altogether and head to the Ballroom at Church Street for private pampering at the Luxe Lounge, presented by Jane Layne Events and Haute Living magazine. The invite-only event at the Ballroom includes spa pampering, a relaxation station and a Peroni beer garden, as well as high-end gifts to take home.

But for those looking to celebrity watch this weekend, it could prove a costly enterprise. The average general admission to a celebrity-hosted party starts at $75. And with the high cost of celebrity-appearance fees, promoters and club owners are banking on large crowds.

NBA overnight sensation Jeremy Lin can command up to $23,000 for a two-hour appearance, and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow can cost up to $60,000 for an event or speaking engagement, said celebrity booking agent Ryan Totka. His agency, Athlete Promotions, has already booked Tebow for four appearances this year.

High-end actors and performers can range up to $125,000 for three-hour appearances. But what will partygoers and promoters get for their money?

Fisher, of Front-Line Promotions, said his company made an effort to book stars known for being receptive to their fans, such as Brown. Contracts don't require celebs to interact with guests or sign autographs, but some do. And though the events are not billed as concerts, there's often a performance.

"You'll be able to be up close and personal, but to say that you'll be able to sit down and have a drink with them, I don't know about that," he said.

Either way, this is all good news for the city of Orlando.

"Orlando is underrated," said NFL receiver Mike Sims-Walker, an Edgewater High grad hosting a Welcome to Orlando party with his friend and NFL running back Chris Johnson, who starred at Olympia High School. "A lot of people just think Disney World and the theme parks, but there's a lot more to Orlando than people can imagine."

Having all these celebrities hanging out in Orlando — and sharing their experiences in real time on social media — can be a boon for Orlando, said Gary Sain, president and chief executive officer of Visit Orlando, the destination's marketing organization.

"When you think about some of these celebrities ... that have hundreds of thousands of followers, and they're talking about Orlando in a positive way — boy, you can't buy that," Sain said. "People are attracted to places that also have a lot of buzz."

Staff writer Beth Kassab contributed to this report. sjowens@tribune.com and skclarke@tribune.com or 407-420-5664.

23 Feb, 2012

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