Arizona's first movie production studio won approval Monday to develop a facility in east Mesa that its developer sees as an inexpensive alternative to Hollywood.
Mesa approved plans for Gateway Studios, whose soundstages could host production of movies, television shows, commercials and game shows.
Developer Vince Stark assembled the plan after seeing productions go to New Mexico and other smaller states instead of Arizona. The state is closer to the center of the film world in California, he said, and is a natural option for producers who need facilities without paying Southern California prices.
Stark plans to start construction in August 2010 and open in about two years. The recession won't affect plans, but the expiration of a state tax incentive for moviemakers could halt progress, Stark said.
Arizona's tax incentive will expire at the end of 2010 and must be renewed for Arizona to compete, as nearly every other state offers perks for the movie industry, Stark said. He's working with the Arizona Film and Media Coalition, an industry lobbying group, to urge the Legislature to support an extension.
"That's the one remaining speed bump we have to pass," Stark said.
Gateway Studios would sit on 55 acres at Hawes and Germann roads and feature eight soundstages and many other buildings for support services. A first phase would include half the stages and cost about $42 million, while the entire project will cost $70 at build-out.
The studios would employ 250 people, and perhaps thousands of related jobs would eventually open up because of the productions, Stark said.
Arizona has a rich history of filmmaking, including "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "Psycho" and "National Lampoon's Vacation." The history helps draw moviemakers, Stark said, but he said they'd like soundstages whether they are using Arizona's natural backdrops in their films or even if they just need an indoor facility at a low cost. The planned studios would be key to convincing filmmakers that Arizona is a natural place to do business, he said.
"The industry here has to be more aggressive, and the state has to be more aggressive in attracting the industry," Stark said.