How is massive Assembly Studios in Doraville build-out progressing?

The TV and film studio is where the former GM auto plant used to reside for 61 years until 2008.

The sizable Assembly Studios in Doraville that used to be a General Motors auto plant is starting to take shape on 43 acres.

Atlanta-based Gray Television, one of the largest owners of broadcast TV stations in the nation, purchased the property last year and in May began building the first of what will be at least 20 soundstages. By the time it is set to open in June of 2023, Assembly will be one of the largest studios in metro Atlanta.

NBCUniversal, a sizable film and television producer, recently signed a deal to utilize the sprawling production campus in Doraville, a major addition to the constellation of entertainment businesses planting roots in Georgia. Besides NBCUniversal, Gray’s own Swirl Films will use the space with remaining stages set to be leased out to others. Gray also purchased the adjacent Third Rail Studios last year.

Gray Television CEO Hilton Howell last week gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a tour of what were muddy grounds last week in his four-wheel-drive Ford Bronco where 1,200 construction workers are busy at work mixing concrete, laying foundations and building walls for future soundstages.

“We are ahead of schedule,” Howell said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve been doing.”

Credit: RODNEY HO

Credit: RODNEY HO

General Motors used the location for more than 60 years building Pontiacs, Buicks, Chevys and Oldsmobiles until it shut down in 2008.

After many fits and starts and misfires, Gray Television last year finally grabbed a bulk of the property for $80 million. Besides the mondo film and TV studio, the company envisions a boutique hotel and all the usual mixed-use elements you would expect in the 2020s including townhomes, apartments, office buildings and restaurants. The entire 135-acre project is called Assembly Atlanta.

It took Gray Television a year of breaking up 83 acres of two-feet-deep concrete to ready the site. The concrete, broken into manageable bites, was reconstituted as fill for the bases of the property. Gray officially started the build out in May.

Aware of the pandemic-inflicted supply-chain issues, Gray purchased all the steel it needed a year ago. That was good timing because this was before inflation took off. It saved them an estimated $25 million, according to Howell. “Better to be lucky than smart,” he said.

Gray’s concrete subcontractor built a temporary on-site concrete plant being used to ensure a steady flow of accessible concrete. “No scheduling problems, no rain delays,” Howell said. “It runs all the time.”

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Besides the indoor stages, there will be four outdoor backlot streetscapes. Based on film office requests, they are building a New Orleans French Quarter vista, a block of New York City brownstones and a set of buildings that could pass for some European cities. The fourth block will rotate based on need.

A three-feet-deep retaining pond is already being dug out in front of a glass building which could be used for film sets that need a sleek, futuristic setting. The pond could also be used for green-screen ocean or lake settings. And Gray plans to use the penthouse of the building for viewing parties and other events.

Credit: GRAY TELEVISION

Credit: GRAY TELEVISION

None of this comes cheap. The media company inherited up to $1.5 billion in bonds Doraville’s economic development authority agreed to issue to help finance the work. On top of that, Gray is spending $130 million to $140 million on the build out this year, with $80 million to $90 million of additional capital spending planned for 2023.

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho

Credit: RODNEY HO

Credit: RODNEY HO

Credit: RODNEY HO/tho@ja

Credit: RODNEY HO/tho@ja

Credit: GRAY TELEVISION

Credit: GRAY TELEVISION

Credit: GRAY TELEVISION

Credit: GRAY TELEVISION

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