$100 million movie studio rising from the ruins of a former public housing site

NEWARK — With the television making booming, Newark’s mayor Ras Baraka climbed onto an excavator earlier this year and slammed the machine’s metal claw through a crumbling brick wall at the city’s first public housing site. He promised to replace the long-abandoned apartment complex with something better.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials are expected to announce a grand new vision for the 15-acre lot: By March 2024, the piles of rubble in the middle of a rundown neighborhood less than two miles from Newark Liberty Airport are set to be replaced with a center for a TV and film production It is valued at $100 million and features six large acoustic platforms, space for set-building, post-production editing, crew trucks, and catering services.

The project was presented primarily as an economic catalyst for Newark, a poor but growing city about 13 miles west of midtown Manhattan. But it also offers perhaps the most visible sign yet of New Jersey’s emerging importance to the film and television industry.

In recent years, companies struggling to meet the growing demand for streaming content are increasingly drawing to the area in and around New York City, an area bustling with actors and union workers. New facilities that opened last year in Hudson County, New Jersey, and Westchester County, New York, are being booked frequently, and more studios are in the pipeline, officials said.

One study estimated that the Newark Project could bring up to 600 long-term jobs and a host of new business opportunities to the city, the state’s largest with a population of 312,000 and a median household income of less than $38,000.

“The bigger idea is for Newark to become a hub for creativity,” said John Schreiber, president and CEO of the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts, a Newark cultural anchor who recently hired the developer for most of the site.

Great Point Studios plans to build a production center for use primarily by Lionsgate, a company that produced 26 Academy Award-nominated films the year following its purchase of the Starz cable operation in 2016.

Great Point Chairman Robert Halmy Jr. said he remains confident in the future of streaming despite news last month that Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in a decade, a downturn that sent stocks tumbling across the industry for fear that rapid growth was For the model is not sustainable.

Mr. Helmy said the desire to watch original streaming content is here to stay. Also, audio plays where shows can be filmed indoors against a green screen or with LED technology is very high.

“We can’t build studios fast enough,” he said.

Several large sound stands opened last year across the Hudson River from New York City in Kearney and Jersey City. Dozens of productions, including award-winning films such as “West Side Story,” “Joker,” and “Army of the Dead,” were filmed here recently.

The Bayonne Planning Board has given the go-ahead for a 1.5-million-square-foot production facility, 1888 Studios, on the site of the old Texaco oil refinery. Plans are being worked out for a studio in West Orange, where inventor Thomas Edison created the country’s first film studio. A Netflix spokesperson confirmed that the company still plans to bid next month for a nearly 300-acre parcel at Fort Monmouth, an abolished military base on the Jersey Shore.

“We already have the resources in NJ — HR,” said Andrew Moscato, a film producer who lives in Jersey City, who has provided parts for “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” a war drama based on memoirs. from this year.

“Announcing more production facilities seems like the last piece of the puzzle,” Mr. Moscato said.

It is Great Point’s second major production center in the region; Lionsgate Yonkers, a larger facility in Westchester County, New York, opened in January.

In 2017, before New Jersey reauthorized industry tax breaks, directors making feature films spent $10 million statewide, and television series creators spent $38 million. Last year, feature films pumped $194 million into the economy, and television shows contributed $247 million, according to the state’s Film and Television Commission.

“The industry has exploded here,” said Stephen Gorelick, executive director of the Commission. “No one could have imagined this progress so quickly.”

All six Newark plays will have a floor area of ​​at least 20,000 square feet, a size considered large enough to attract business from famous production centers in Georgia, New Mexico and California.

This has been the goal of Governor Philip de Murphy for years.

He traveled to California in 2019 to spark interest in New Jersey among Hollywood’s leaders. Two years later, he signed a law offering companies moving or expanding in New Jersey $14 billion in tax breaks; The legislation significantly increased the range of tax cuts available through 2034 to companies who build studios or films in the state.

Last spring, after Georgia passed a law restricting voter access, the governor publicly tried to steal production work away from Georgia when activists called on companies like Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros. to boycott studios there.

More recently, Mr. Murphy noted that Georgia would likely ban abortion if, as expected, the Supreme Court overturned a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, providing more reason for producers and directors to seek alternatives outside that state.

“Georgia is going in the wrong direction about the values ​​so dear to so many talent and the people behind the talent,” said Mr. Murphy.

It’s been decades since the neighborhood surrounding the apartment complex, Seth Boyden Court, was considered a desirable place to live. Construction officials said that one of the challenges during the demolition was moving about 20 homeless people who had been returning at night to compound buildings that had been vacant since 2015.

But its location — “a short distance from the airport” and less than 15 miles from New York City — is ideal for the actors, directors and crew members who will eventually work in Lionsgate Newark, Mr. Halmy said.

“A lot of talent lives in Manhattan,” he said. “A lot of talent wants to sleep in Manhattan.”

In addition to the movie studios, the city has allowed a separate company, Boraie Development, to build 200 housing units for seniors on four acres of the site and up to 200 market-rate apartments nearby, Victor Cirillo, director of Newark’s Housing Authority, said.

“We think we will really be able to bring this neighborhood back to life,” Mr. Cirillo said.

Downtown Newark has been thriving for years. But neighborhoods far from the heart of the city, such as the Dayton Street area where the studios were planned, still struggle. In addition to the influx of funds hoped to be spent in Newark, the new facility, in conjunction with the Center for the Performing Arts, is expected to offer training courses and educational programs to students in city schools.

Bill Judd, a senior organizer with the HUD Tenants Association of Greater Newark, said projects such as the “shiny and brand-new” Lionsgate Newark often ignore the real needs of current Newark residents.

And he said developers should be asked to repeat the same number of low-income housing units lost when Seth Boyden closed: 530. “Newark is in dire need of low-income housing,” Mr. Good said. “It should be a one-to-one alternative.”

He stressed that he was not opposed to development or the new jobs the project could provide, but said that maintaining low-income housing is equally vital.

An economic impact study for the Performing Arts Center estimated that Lionsgate Newark would create 500 to 600 permanent jobs on the site and bring in up to $800 million in economic activity. Analysis by JLL, a real estate services company, found that a significant portion of direct spending is likely to be spent outside New Jersey initially.

But Newark and Essex County, NJ, “could, over time, develop the cottage industries” needed to hold a portion of that financial endowment, resulting in an estimated $180 million in state tax revenue over 20 years, according to the report.

At least some of the new jobs will be for production assistants – entry-level workers looking to break into a notoriously competitive business.

For the past two years, Jody Brockway, the former vice president of films and mini-series at NBC who now runs PA Bootcamp, a job training company, has led seven weekend classes for potential production assistants in New Jersey, often before the big shoots.

“That’s where you start,” said Mrs. Brockway. “You make your way and you make your way.”

The pay is low, but it can lead to more permanent jobs, either producing future shows or in a wide range of ancillary work.

She said, “Once you have a studio, you now build sets, now you hire carpenters. You hire painters. You hire people to connect everything.”

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