Will lawsuits spell doom for Gwinnett’s massive movie studio project?

2:51 p.m Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 Business
Jim Jacoby hopes to turn 114 acres of the OFS optic fiber manufacturing site, formerly operated by Lucent, into a massive complex for making movies and TV shows. The Atlanta Media Campus and Studios will include a film school, housing, hotel and other amenities if Jacoby’s dream comes true.

Four years after its announcement, the project that boasted of bringing the Southeast’s largest movie studio to Gwinnett County appears to be in danger of never getting off the ground.

For months now, the owner of the site off I-85 near Norcross — fiber optic company OFS — has been quarreling in the courtroom with the supposed movie studio developer, Jacoby Development Inc. Litigation filed in Fulton County, first reported by Atlanta real estate news site Bisnow, involves more than $120,000 in purportedly unpaid licensing fees and a purchase-sale agreement that OFS says has fallen through.

OFS filed its original suit in April — about two months after Jacoby filed a suit in Gwinnett County claiming the company actually owed it $400,000.

A spokeswoman for the company, Sherry Salyer, declined this week to comment on the litigation. She did say, however, that OFS still “self-manages an active television and film production portfolio” on the site. She also said the company is “continuing to market a portion of the property for sale.”

Jim Jacoby, the chairman of Atlanta-based Jacoby Development, did not return emails or messages from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He told Bisnow that his company and OFS were “working towards a resolution” and that he still wants to build the project.

When it was originally pitched in 2013 and over the subsequent years, the “Atlanta Media Campus” was touted as a game-changer, even in a state where show business was already beginning to boom. Plans called for the largest film and TV studio space outside of California, for educational space and multifamily housing, for retail and a towering on-site hotel.

Films have indeed been shot on the existing OFS site, including installments of the “Fast & Furious” and “Hunger Games” franchises, but any real progress made toward Jacoby’s ultimate goal has been unclear.

And the newly revealed litigation between the developer and OFS raises even more questions.

According to the suit filed by OFS, the company — which plans to continue its normal business on part of the property — and Jacoby reached a pair of agreements that essentially allowed the developer and affiliated studio company MBS3 to lease buildings on the site.

Jacoby never paid the tab, which, according to OFS, ran north of $120,000.

OFS’s complaint also claims its larger purchase-sale agreement with the developer expired in Sept. 2016. But in its own filings, Jacoby claims that agreement is “still enforceable” — and that OFS actually owes them the roughly $400,000 in earnest money it put down to secure the agreement.

Jacoby also claims that OFS poached a movie equipment rental contract from it and proceeded to make “millions of dollars” from it.

Thanks in large part to significant tax incentives, Georgia has become a hotbed for TV and movie production in recent years. A number of studios have been pitched, planned or opened across metro Atlanta. In May, an industry study completed by Los Angeles’s film office found that more top-100 feature films released at the domestic box office in 2016 were made in Georgia than in any other place.

And a fair share — and maybe more — of movies and TV shows have already been shot in Gwinnett County. But a project like the one proposed by Jacoby would have the potential to fully launch the suburb into the spotlight.

Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said this week that the county “needs to refrain from commenting” on anything related to the project “as long as there is active litigation between OFS and Jacoby.”

Nick Masino, Gwinnett’s top economic development recruiter, also declined to comment on the situation.

A judge is questioning whether the judgement fits the crime.
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