With the housing market slow, a Gold Canyon home developer is focusing on a new goal — turning east Mesa into east Hollywood. Vince Stark, president of CBC Inc., plans to develop a $70 million movie studio complex on 55 acres that he partially owns at the northeast corner of Hawes and Germann roads.
To be developed in two phases, the Gateway Studios complex would include eight production studios, an auditorium, back-lot production areas, and such amenities as daycare, gym, spa and medical services designed to lure top filmmakers to the East Valley.
About 250 full-time jobs would be created at the complex, which would have the capacity to produce a couple of dozen movies a year, Stark said.
He claims to have already lined up $42 million in financing for the first phase.
“This is something the state needs,” he said. “The infrastructure for filmmaking is not at the level it needs to be in Arizona.”
Stark sees an economic development niche that Arizona is missing. Many movie producers want to avoid the high costs of Hollywood, and Arizona is nearby. But they are passing over the state in favor of New Mexico, Michigan and other locations that offer more incentives and have better infrastructure, he said.
“New Mexico is doing ten times what we do in this state,” he said.
Although Stark has no experience in the movie industry or in building movie studios, he believes he can fill that gap.
He is proposing to offer production companies the opportunity to choose from various sound stage designs and select their own contractors to build the studios. The production companies would own the studios, and they could use their facilities and the amenities included in the complex to attract top filmmakers, Stark said.
He said construction could begin by the middle of next year if Mesa approves light industrial zoning for the land, which is zoned for agricultural use.
The Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear the case Oct. 21.
Other pieces will have to fall into place if Gateway Studios is to become reality. Stark said the Arizona Legislature needs to extend tax incentives for movie makers, which are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.
“State incentives would be the determining factor” in whether the project is built, he said.
Stark is working with the Arizona Film and Media Coalition, an industry lobbying group, to try to get the extension approved.
“The incentive program is the primary tool we use” to attract major movie projects to the state, said Ken Chapa, program manager for the Arizona Film Office. “If something happens and we lose that tool, it’s going to have a negative effect on large-scale projects.”
Chapa said a major studio complex like Gateway would be essential if Arizona is to become a major factor in the movie industry. “Any studio projects — we are all for it,” he said.
Another possible stumbling block is a proposal to run a major Salt River Project power line along Germann Road past the Gateway Studios site. Stark said the power line would interfere with delicate sound-stage equipment and satellite feeds, and would be a deal breaker if the Germann alignment is approved.
SRP officials deny the line would interfere with movie production, but they prefer another alignment along Ryan Road a half mile to the south. But the town of Queen Creek favors Germann Road.
A hearing on the issue is scheduled Sept. 29-30 before the Arizona Power Plant and Line Siting Committee, which will make a route recommendation to the Arizona Corporation Commission. The commission will make the final decision.
Mesa strongly supports the more southerly route because it would have less impact on landings and takeoffs at nearby Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, said Scot Rigby, Mesa Gateway project manager.
“We support the (movie studio) project,” he said. “We think it’s a good project, the first movie production complex proposed in Arizona in a long time.”
He said the studios’ proximity to the airport is a plus because production crews could easily fly in. And the proposed Gaylord resort east of the airport would give them a first-class place to stay.
“If the (state) incentives are still there, we think it has good viability,” he said.