Charlottes plans to remake the empty Eastland Mall into film studios will come into focus next month, when the city reaches out to potential developers on Jan. 4 and offers a tour of the site Jan. 30.
The city spent $13.2 million in August to buy nearly 81 acres at Eastland in hopes of partnering with a private developer to build sound stages or studios on part of the land. City officials hope to capitalize on the states growing film industry, which has been attracted to North Carolina in part because of generous tax credits.
The citys economic development office has contracted with Washington D.C.-based Partners for Economic Solutions to guide the city through the selection process.
This fall, the city issued what is known as a Request for Information about the project. Two potential developers responded, giving the city guidance as to what they thought was needed to remake the site.
Both developers said that state tax credits must be continued for the Eastland project to work. In addition, they said any redevelopment would likely depend on additional local incentives from the city or Mecklenburg County to assist in construction.
The citys plans for Eastland are being watched closely by eastside residents, many of whom believe that what happens at the Central Avenue and North Sharon Amity Road site is critical to the area.
Here are the next steps in the citys timeline:
• Issuing a Request for Qualifications on Jan. 4: That will be released to a broad distribution of potential development teams, according to a city memo. The RFQ will be used to identify a short list of qualified developers. On Jan. 30, the city will offer developers an opportunity to tour the site and ask questions. The responses to the RFQ will be due Feb. 15.
• Releasing a short list of developers on March 8 that the city thinks are qualified to move forward on the project: It will also release that day the Request for Proposals, in which developers will give the city detailed plans for the site. The RFP will also likely contain specifics on the amount of financial subsidies needed for the project, if any. The RFPs will be due to the city May 30.
• Evaluating proposals in June: The timeline calls for city council members to have picked a developer after the evaluations and to authorize city staff to begin negotiations to sign an agreement.
Developers show interest
Three developers have so far expressed interest in the project.
In September, Charlotte movie executive Bert Hesse told a group of eastside residents at a community meeting that he and his investors want to spend $150 million on the site. He said he would build 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 that would be less dependent on the states film tax credit program.
Hesse didnt respond to the citys Request for Information.
In November, Film Studio Group from Los Angeles told the city it is excited about the Eastland concept, though it said the tax incentives are critical.
We believe the city can certainly support film facilities in fact a next generation production campus if state tax incentives remain stable, Film Studio Group said in its proposal.
Film Studio Group also said that while Eastland isnt optimal for a film studio, part of the building could be converted into offices, wardrobe and makeup rooms, screening rooms and a studio store.
The other group that responded to the citys Request for Information was Charlotte-based ReelWorks Studios, based in Fourth Ward.
ReelWorks Studios which said it is the citys largest independent film studio estimated a studio would cost between $30 million and $50 million.
Hunger Games, Homeland
North Carolina has an aggressive incentive program for movie, television and commercials, which has helped land such high-profile projects as the movie The Hunger Games and the Showtime series Homeland, which is filmed in Charlotte.
For instance, if a company spends $75 million on a production, it could be reimbursed up to 25 percent nearly $19 million for qualifying expenses.
The General Assembly agreed recently to extend the tax credits for a year, through January 2015, but Republicans have said the incentives possibly will be reduced as part of an overall tax overhaul in 2013-2014.