NBCUniversal will operate huge new Assembly film studio in Doraville

A rendering of what part of Assembly Studios will look like when it's completed on the land that once was a General Motors auto assembly plant. GRAY TELEVISION

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A rendering of what part of Assembly Studios will look like when it's completed on the land that once was a General Motors auto assembly plant. GRAY TELEVISION

Atlanta-based Gray Television now owns the land where the former General Motors plant used to be.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with new details on Monday afternoon.

NBCUniversal, one of the biggest film and television producers in the United States, plans to operate a sprawling production campus in Doraville, a major addition to the constellation of entertainment businesses planting roots in Georgia.

Atlanta-based Gray Television said late Wednesday it has signed a multi-year lease agreement with NBCUniversal to run its new Assembly Studios on the property that once housed the General Motors assembly plant near I-285 and Buford Highway.

NBCUniveral’s selection of the Doraville site is a major coup for Georgia’s entertainment sector, and instantly becomes an anchor attraction to support long-range plans for new apartments, office space and retail long-envisioned as a new downtown for the northern DeKalb city. And since expanding its generous tax incentives for TV and film producers in 2018, Georgia has become a major magnet for big budget movies and TV series, competing with California, New Mexico, New York and Canada.

More than 15 major independent studios have since been built in metro Atlanta, including Trilith Studios, where Disney+ and Marvel films are shot, and Tyler Perry Studios.

Assembly Studios, by attaching itself to NBCUniversal, a deep-pocketed media content creator, will be assured a steady flow of major productions going forward.

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The former General Motors Assembly plant will be home to NBCUniversal production studios. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The former General Motors Assembly plant will be home to NBCUniversal production studios. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
The former General Motors Assembly plant will be home to NBCUniversal production studios. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The company’s portfolio includes the NBC broadcast network, the Peacock streaming service, Universal Pictures and cable networks such as Bravo, E!, Syfy and USA Network. It’s a huge commitment from a New York-based media giant, signaling its confidence the state’s tax credit system will continue without any crippling changes.

Georgia’s film and TV production tax credits are among the biggest corporate incentives the state offers each year. The state handed out $1.2 billion in tax credits for the year ending June 30, 2021 to companies like Sony, Netflix and Paramount with an estimate of $4 billion in direct capital investment from 366 eligible TV shows and films.

Gray, one of the nation’s largest owners of local TV stations, including Atlanta’s CBS46 (WGCL-TV) and Peachtree TV (WPCH-TV), purchased the property in 2021. Gray has ambitious plans to build a mixed-used operation on the 135 acres.

“Their investment in Assembly will accelerate Gray Television’s plans to transform the site of our former GM Plant into a true ‘Studio City,’” said Doraville Mayor Joseph Geierman in a press release. “The economic impact to Doraville, metro Atlanta, and the state of Georgia cannot be overstated. Additionally, this announcement dovetails perfectly with the city’s efforts to develop a new city center.”

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NBCUniversal is going to operate Assembly Studios on the former Doraville General Motors plant property. Walls are going up now on the first soundstages. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

NBCUniversal is going to operate Assembly Studios on the former Doraville General Motors plant property. Walls are going up now on the first soundstages. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
NBCUniversal is going to operate Assembly Studios on the former Doraville General Motors plant property. Walls are going up now on the first soundstages. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

J.C. Bradbury, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University who believes these types of tax credits are far more beneficial to corporate bottom lines than taxpayers, said he isn’t surprised NBCUniversal made this move considering how much the company will get in return.

“Given that both politicians running for Georgia governor have stated strong support for tax credits,” he said, “I won’t be surprised if we see more similar projects.”

GM opened the Doraville assembly plant in 1947. Some of the famous vehicles that rolled off the factory floor included 1950s Pontiac Bonnevilles and 1960s Chevy Impalas.

By the 2000s, the Doraville plant made largely forgettable minivans and GM shuttered the factory in 2008 amid a corporate restructuring. Its closure was seen as an economic double-whammy for Doraville coupled with the Great Recession.

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Construction continues on the Assembly project in Doraville on Thursday, June 2, 2022. The former General Motors Assembly plant will be home to NBCUniversal production studios. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Construction continues on the Assembly project in Doraville on Thursday, June 2, 2022. The former General Motors Assembly plant will be home to NBCUniversal production studios. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Construction continues on the Assembly project in Doraville on Thursday, June 2, 2022. The former General Motors Assembly plant will be home to NBCUniversal production studios. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

In 2014, a development team that included Atlanta firms The Integral Group and Macauley+Schmit acquired the 165-acre site with grand plans for a mixed-use downtown for Doraville. The site was pitched to Fortune 500 companies.

A portion of the site was sold for car dealerships, another section became the headquarters for mattress giant Serta Simmons Bedding and about seven acres became Third Rail Studios, a small film studio that opened in 2016, and has been home to NBC’s “Good Girls” and Netflix’s “Ozark.”

Gray said Assembly Studios will be the focal point covering 43 acres. It will include soundstages, production offices, warehouse and mill buildings, event space and a parking deck. NBC will eventually have a full suite of offices to support television and film production. NBCUniversal will also manage Third Rail Studios.

Gray, which also owns Swirl Films, will have its own studio space there as well. In a press release, Gray said this leasing arrangement will leverage NBCU’s experience managing studio lots enabling Gray to focus on its own video production business.

Crews began building roadways and infrastructure at the Assembly Studios complex last summer, with construction for Gray’s Swirl Films starting late last year. NBCU’s facilities are expected to break ground this summer.

Gray said it hopes to have the Assembly Studios complex completed in the second half of 2023. If all goes well, Gray’s Swirl Films, NBCU and any third-party tenants can start film and television projects there by the end of the year.

On the rest of the land, Gray plans to build a town center over five to seven years. Gray’s plan includes a boutique hotel, townhouses and apartments, retail, restaurants, entertainment venues including e-gaming facilities, a conference center, and office buildings.

Gray, a publicly traded company, said it plans to invest $130 million to $140 million in 2022 on the project and another $80 million to $90 million in capital spending in 2023.