I think we got a bargain.
At some point, you have to look at the decrepit Eastland Mall and wonder what it would cost to tow it away.
Once a cathedral to merchandizing, its now an enormous blight. For $13 million, already covered by bonds, the city of Charlotte snaps up 81 acres for something new.
Bright and sparkly is the idea to transform Eastland into sound stages for film and TV production, a Hollywood on the Catawba. City Council has been told multiple studios are interested in the venue.
Thats a caution flag the size of an infield tarp.
If you talk much to people in show business, and I do, you are immediately struck with how they are always on the verge of Something Big, taking development meetings about a dazzling, soon-to-be-announced project, and, by the way, Johnny Depp has already said hes interested.This excitement swirls until the whole thing collapses into the imaginative vapor from which it was formed, and the cycle begins anew.
You can make a good case that Charlotte is already a hotbed of media projects. It is home to Foxs Speed channel, ESPN-U, Raycoms sports unit and lots of NASCAR shows. Occasional films are shot here like the epic Shallow Hal.
High-end projects like Hunger Games and Showtimes Homeland rode in last year, but they came with a secret cost.
North Carolina has joined Georgia and Louisiana in leading the second-tier (meaning outside California and New York) of film production. It has done so by offering budget-minded studios generous kickbacks better known as tax incentives.
Film companies can get 25 percent refunds from the state on paychecks (up to $1 million per person) and in-state purchases up to $20 million per project. Thats a pretty good deal and I guarantee they dont offer it to your business.
Last year, the state gave filmmakers $30 million. That doesnt include Hunger Games, Iron Man 3 and other projects yet to be paid out.
So, yes, were hot stuff film-wise.
Critics of film incentives point out, however, that most projects only make temporary jobs, not long-term wealth.
Moreover, states chasing film investment are in a race to the bottom. North Carolina is popular right now, but that could change when the next state trumps our incentives. Some states, including South Carolina, have cut way back on incentives. They dont think theyre worth it.
That brings us back to Eastland. If the city is successful in getting various studios to invest in the idea, we should welcome them eagerly.
But if the industry, already heavily subsidized by the taxpayer, wants the city to underwrite the costs, its time to yell Cut!
Sorry, Hollywood, but thats show business, Charlotte-style.