Southeast’s largest movie studio planned for Gwinnett site

1:37 p.m Wednesday, April 24, 2013 Local

The developer behind Midtown’s Atlantic Station is planning to build the Southeast’s largest movie studio in Gwinnett County.

The new project is the latest of at least five major movie and television studio developments or expansions announced in Georgia this year, begging the question of whether the state could end up with too many moviemaking facilities.

However, state officials say the expanded offerings will help Georgia land even more lucrative projects. “The dozen soundstages that we build first will be full from the day they open,” Jim Jacoby, chairman of Atlanta-based Jacoby Development, said in a statement.

Jacoby Development said Wednesday it plans a development that will include the studio complex and an arts and media school surrounded by a mix of retail, office space and hotels on the site of a large industrial campus along I-85.

Financing has not been finalized, and the development company is still finishing design work and other details, Jacoby said.

It’s the same site that was pitched just last year by another developer for Georgia’s first casino and this year as the home to an innovative new school. Although the gambling complex has been scuttled, the school expects to still house classrooms at the campus.

If the development gets built as planned, it would include at least 12 soundstages — by far the most of any single Georgia moviemaking complex — totaling 400,000 square feet, or bigger than the combined space of two Super Walmart stores. Film officials say that’s big enough to accommodate a few television shows or small movies simultaneously or one major summer blockbuster movie.

Gov. Nathan Deal said the announcement was a reflection of the film industry’s rapid growth in metro Atlanta and the government incentives that have helped fuel the surge.

“It’s another indication that our tax credits are working,” Deal said of the 2008 law that expanded tax breaks for production companies. “And now we are beginning to see the growth of the support industries that will provide a base of homegrown employment here.”

Critics such as the conservative Tax Foundation have questioned whether the film industry is worthy of public investments because many of the jobs it creates are temporary and some are filled by people from outside the state.

While the sudden construction boom may sound like a glut of studio projects, the head of Georgia’s entertainment office said Georgia has been a runner-up to North Carolina and other states on marquee projects such as “Iron Man 3” because it didn’t have enough large film campuses to accommodate the demand.

“We’re trying to find homes for many large-scale projects,” said Lee Thomas, director of the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. “This couldn’t come at a better time for us.”

Jacoby is the developer behind the transformation of an environmentally plagued former steel mill into Atlantic Station. The company also is transforming the former Ford Motor Co. plant near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport into a mixed-use corporate campus, the first tenant being sports car maker Porsche.

Jacoby said the site, known as the OFS property, is under contract with a transaction expected to close by the end of the year. A sales price was not disclosed. The 100 acres slated for redevelopment does not include OFS’ production facilities and will not interfere with OFS’ fiber cable manufacturing center, which will continue there.

The OFS site has been viewed as one of Gwinnett’s leading redevelopment opportunities. It sits near the intersection of Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85 in the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

Last year, Underground Atlanta operator Dan O’Leary and his partners pitched it as a site for a gambling resort that would help fund the HOPE scholarship, but those plans, which would require the approval of the Georgia Lottery and the tacit support of Deal, did not materialize.

The land was more recently proposed as the site of a $200 million education project aimed at training the region’s next wave of entrepreneurs. The school’s founder, Cliff Oxford, said it will still have a presence on the sprawling site, though the footprint there might not be as large as previously imagined.

In a brief interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from Los Angeles, where he was meeting with major movie studios and other potential partners, Jacoby said he has considered a film production campus for several months and has been interested in the OFS property for about seven years.

Jacoby said that when finished the property could have 2 million square feet of office space — likely built specifically for entertainment companies such as visual effects and animation firms — as well as a 400-room hotel and 2,000 student housing or multi-family rental units.

The company is still looking for a partner to operate the arts and film campus — Jacoby sits on the board of the Savannah College of Art and Design — and has met with both East Coast and West Coast schools.

Jacoby’s plan comes as at least four other movie studio campuses or expansions have been pitched this year, including plans by Covington-based Triple Horse for a sprawling 168-acre complex on land about 35 miles east of Atlanta. Tyler Perry has also said he’s contemplating a “huge” expansion of his studio near Greenbriar Mall.

Those projects will add to a number of soundstages and studios already operating across metro Atlanta, from rural areas such as Hiram and Senoia to the EUE/Screen Gems studio on the Lakewood campus in southeast Atlanta.

The film facilities across the state currently are home to 34 feature films, television shows and pilots in some stage of production, according to the state film office. The campuses envisioned by developers could increase not only the number of Hollywood projects, but also their scale, as studios go after Hollywood blockbusters with nine-figure budgets.

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