TAMPA - Attention Norwegian Cruise Line passengers: Tonight's entertainment spectacular featuring handsome crooners, fabulous dancers and aerial circus performers comes to you from ... a warehouse in Riverview. This week, the cruise line was finishing up a deal to lease 46,000 square feet inside a Riverview industrial park, the Oak Creek Commerce Park just south of Progress Boulevard and west of Falkenburg Road. Located somewhere you might expect the company to store supplies such as linens or cocktail mixes, the Miami-based cruise line is readying its worldwide entertainment training facility. By September, Norwegian expects to be rotating 200 singers, dancers and production staff members in and out of the facility on four- to six-week training stints.
It's an unusual place to rehearse musicals. The distribution center's last tenant was Twinkies maker Hostess, said Rick Narkiewicz, an industrial real estate broker with CBRE Inc. who is handling the leasing. But Riverview and the Oak Creek industrial park, specifically, had the right mix of low leasing costs, high ceilings for the shows' aerial elements and access to talented actors and musicians, said Richard Ambrose, Norwegian's vice president of entertainment. "We looked around the country, we looked in Las Vegas, Orlando, in the Miami area," Ambrose said. "And because of the economics of it and the location of Tampa within driving distance of Miami, we thought Tampa would be the perfect location." It's a little-known fact that Norwegian Cruise Line has been practicing its song-and-dance routines in the Tampa Bay area for five years. Its home was perhaps even more unlikely than Riverview: Wesley Chapel. The company had leased a 10,000-square-foot dance studio - Song and Dance, Studio of the Arts - not far from The Grove at Wesley Chapel. Entertainers from around the world would practice their costume changes and show tunes in the mornings and afternoons, leaving the studio available for more typical dance classes at night. Few people knew that fabulous musicals were under rehearsal around the corner from a Sweetbay, said studio owner Julie McPheron. Ken Chase, a local Realtor and 17-year resident of Wesley Chapel, added, "I always saw kids and things like that going to that dance studio. No, I wasn't aware of anything going on there for the cruise industry." Ambrose said the Wesley Chapel studio was always just a temporary home until Norwegian could find more permanent digs. It did most of its rehearsals there, but had to do some training in other locations around the world, he said. The new Riverview facility will give it a "one-stop shop," he said. The warehouse space will have six large studios, each 40-foot-by-50-foot, and allow the cruise line to rehearse shows for six ships at a single time. One of its ships, the Norwegian Dawn, sails out of the Port of Tampa in winter. A typical show has about 15 entertainers and another 15 or so production people, Ambrose said. Its shows include the Broadway musical "Rock of Ages," a celebration of big-hair rock bands; the Gershwin musical "My One and Only"; and a play based on the Reese Witherspoon movie "Legally Blonde." "They're very large, spectacular, big Broadway shows," Ambrose said. Many of the entertainers audition around the world in places such as New York, London and Australia, and Norwegian tours U.S. college campuses, too. But Ambrose is excited about the chance to tap into Central Florida's talent pool. The new facility will employ local people in support roles, but Ambrose couldn't offer any numbers Wednesday. The local real estate market should get a boost, too, because Norwegian is renting 31 two-bedroom apartments in an undisclosed location to house its stable of entertainers, Ambrose said. "We've been in the Tampa Bay area for quite a while now, but we've never had a home," Ambrose said. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7865 Twitter: @msasso