Charlotte movie executive Bert Hesse made a public pitch Thursday night for his vision of remaking Eastland Mall, telling an audience of eastside residents that he and his investors would spend $150 million on a film studio, offices and possibly a hotel.
Hesse, the president of Los Angeles-based Central Avenue Pictures, said his plan would target small, independent films and could rejuvenate the area.
It will take something big to turn the area around, Hesse said. A new Kmart isnt going to do it. A Wal-Mart isnt going to do it. It will take $150 million.
But there is no guarantee that Hesses plan will become reality, or that the City Council would choose to partner with him.
The citys economic development office is studying the film industry to learn whether a studio for Eastland is viable. It hopes to release a request for proposals by the end of the year.
The city hopes a number of developers will express interest in the site, allowing the City Council to have multiple options when it picks a partner, possibly in 2013.
The city recently bought the remains of Eastland Mall and 81 acres for $13.2 million. The mall had been closed for two years and become a blight on east Charlotte.
Hesse, speaking before the Charlotte East Community Partners, suggested that he or any other developer might need financial help.
I doubt anyone will spend $13 million to buy it, and $10 million to tear down the mall, and be $23 million in the hole, Hesse said.
Hesse is listed as the executive producer of a 2010 documentary about Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Papers on file with the N.C. Secretary of States office show Central Avenue Pictures was officially organized in August 2010.
Thanks to a generous tax credit program at the state level, North Carolina has had success recently in landing several high-profile TV shows or movies.
The Hunger Games movie was filmed in and around Charlotte, and the acclaimed Showtime TV series Homeland films in Charlotte.
The state gives a 25 percent rebate to film and TV productions that film in the state. That means for every $100 a studio spends filming in North Carolina, the state would give it $25 back.
Hesse said his plan doesnt depend on the film rebates, which he said are mostly used by large studios doing $100 million productions. He said the General Assembly could scrap and scale back the credits, but he plans to target smaller movie companies that would be less dependent on the incentives.
You dont want empty sound stages, Hesse said.
Hesse spoke before about 75 people at Hickory Grove Recreation Center. Most were enthusiastic about Hesses proposal, which includes an idea for a film school.
The fact that the City Council is behind (the idea of redeveloping Eastland) is a good thing, said Jeff Ortman, who lives off Pence Road. We have to do something.
Susan Lindsay, who lives off Harris Boulevard, said she has been wary about redeveloping Eastland into studios.
My mindset hasnt been on movies because (the studios) are warehouses, Lindsay said. But Im encouraged. Whatever we do, we have to blend it into the neighborhoods.
Hesse, who has lived in Charlotte for 25 years, said hes been in the film business for 25 years. He said one of his most recent productions was the 2009 independent film Cold Storage, which filmed in Charlotte.
He said he has a potential partner in a British studio executive.
Council members Beth Pickering, John Autry and Michael Barnes attended Hesses presentation.
Pickering said shes open to the city taking a greater financial role in the project, in possibly paying for the malls demolition. The devil is in the details but Im open to that, Pickering said.