Fayette movie studio becoming a blockbuster

A Fayette County movie production center plans to add almost 2 million square feet of studio space, more than 1,300 homes, hotels, offices and other facilities over the next seven years.

The expansion, which promises to create something of a moviemaking company town, reflects the huge growth of film production in a state that has courted the industry with generous incentives.

Pinewood Atlanta Holdings is already adding 480,000 square feet, roughly doubling the size of its studio center opened in January 2014, said Brian Wismer, Fayetteville community development director.

However, the complex also has spawned plans for new housing and a new community college campus, both set to open later this year, aimed at accommodating and training employees involved in movie production.

“Nobody knew how this thing would take off,” said Wismer. “When there’s a production shoot, all the apartments are full, and the hotels are full, so there’s pent-up demand.”

The movie complex, which started with an initial $20 million phase to build five sound stages and offices totaling 305,000 square feet, is being developed by a joint venture of Pinewood Studios Group, a London movie studio operator, and River’s Rock LLC. The metro Atlanta investment firm is connected with the Cathy family, owners of the Chik-fil-A fast food chain.

In a filing Friday to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the city of Fayetteville said the Pinewood project, slated to be completed in 2022, will eventually include 1.95 million square feet with studios, 1,345 residential units, and more than 312,000 square feet of offices, hotels and other commercial and institutional space.

Georgia Military College, a two-year community college based in Milledgeville, is building a satellite campus nearby that should begin offering classes this fall in digital film and nursing.

The filing, called a Development of Regional Impact notice, is aimed at alerting the Atlanta Regional Commission and neighboring governments of large projects so that they can prepare for potential effects such as traffic and demand for schools and other services.

“That’s where we expected to go” from the beginning, Bill Foley, the project’s architect, said of the overall project’s dimensions. But the developers wanted to wait until the first phase was built to roll out details of long-term plans.

“It’s all come true,” said Foley. “We anticipate the growth is going to start having an impact.”

Unlike Hollywood film makers that have their own studios, Pinewood runs several movie production campuses around the world that are rented to filmmakers.

‘Ant-Man’ coming

So far, a production company controlled by Disney has used Pinewood’s Fayette campus to produce a movie, “Ant-Man,” expected to be released this summer.

That work drew about 1,000 staff employees, movie extras and construction workers, and involved hundreds of other workers at nearby shops and vendors, said Foley.

Pinewood is ahead of schedule in construction of its newest stages, said Craig Miller, co-president of the Georgia Production Partnership, an industry advocacy group.

Hollywood production spending in Georgia ballooned by 50 percent to $1.4 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June, buoyed by big budget movies like The Hunger Games sequels.

The movie and television industry shot 158 projects in Georgia in the 12 months that end June 30, up 11 percent. California and New York remain the top film and TV production states by far. The Hollywood Reporter ranked Georgia third in 2013.

The industry has flocked to states such as Georgia and Louisiana because of lucrative tax credits for production spending. Proponents say they help create jobs, spawn other economic activity and encourage film companies to build permanent infrastructure.

Costly giveaways?

Critics say the tax credits are a costly giveaway to a rich industry and create mainly lower-wage jobs for locals. Film companies have shallow roots and are known to leave or threaten to leave if incentives dry up.

Lawmakers in North Carolina, one of Georgia’s top competitors and a state with large filming campuses, put a cap on their program, sending some work to Georgia. Louisiana is also considering capping the value of the credits.

Production companies can earn a credit of up to 30 percent of what they spend on qualifying projects. What they can’t use to defer their own taxes —- many aren’t based here and have little tax liability —- they can sell for cash at upward of 90 cents on the dollar.

Other companies that buy the credits can then use them to reduce their Georgia tax bills, meaning it takes money away that would normally have been collected.

Film tax credits resulted in a hit of at least $250 million to the state treasury from 2008 to 2011, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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