The storyline surrounding the former Eastland Mall property is a familiar one for Charlotte: City meets developer. City falls in love with developer. City prepares to woo developer with millions of dollars in incentives.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The developer in this plot, Studio Charlotte Development, has a compelling proposal – building a movie studio on land the city has long tried to put to good use. If successful, the studio could bring an economic jolt to struggling east Charlotte, and it could help the city diversify its business base.
But now, movie lovers, Studio Charlotte is acting like it’s made Charlotte an offer it can’t refuse.
As the Observer’s Steve Harrison reported last week, the city’s economic development staff hasn’t received critical financial information from Studio Charlotte, which is asking for about $38 million in public investment. Economic development director Brad Richardson wants the movie studio’s estimated “hard cost” – the expenses that would become part of the taxable value. Those numbers haven’t arrived, and Richardson is worried. “I don’t know if we’re on the same path,” he told the Observer.
Meanwhile, Studio Charlotte’s Bert Hesse is unconcerned, despite an exclusive negotiating window with the city expiring next month. “We’re very happy with where we’re at,” he said, and he suggested that Richardson take another look at the paperwork Richardson has already examined.
Hesse also told the Observer: “We’re in constant contact with the city on this process.” Richardson says the group has met only once with city staff since November. Clearly, what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
Is Studio Charlotte expecting Charlotte to hand over the money without asking too many questions? Some City Council members think so. But Richardson’s willingness to go public with the city’s concerns is a welcome signal that Charlotte isn’t getting blinded by the glitter of an exotic proposal.
We hope the city’s diligence includes providing the public with answers to at least two other critical questions. First, would Charlotte be wise to join a glut of movie studios, including more than a half-dozen that have opened recently or will open soon across the country? Also, is Pacifica Ventures – the California company that would build Charlotte’s studio – a trustworthy business partner? Pacifica and its founding partner, Hal Katersky, have a history of failed ventures and project delays.
All of which might be moot – and should be – if Studio Charlotte continues to play coy with the city’s request for financial information. Yes, the Eastland property remains disturbingly vacant, and the city should be open to opportunities to revitalize the community that surrounds it. But the economy and the commercial real estate market are slowly improving. Charlotte might be smart to try the market once again, instead of a movie venture that’s looking more and more like risky business.
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