A $100 million film studio will emerge from the rubble of a former public housing site

NEWARK – In a made-for-TV flourish, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka rode in an excavator earlier this year and drilled the machine’s metal claw through a crumbling brick wall at the first public housing site from the city. The long-abandoned apartment complex would be replaced, he promised, with something better.

On Tuesday afternoon, officials are expected to announce the big new vision for the 15-acre lot: By March 2024, mounds of rubble at the center of a devastated neighborhood less than two miles from Newark Liberty Airport are expected to be replaced by a $100 million Television and Film Production Center with six large sound stages and space for set construction, 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 relevance in the film and television industry.

In recent years, companies struggling to meet the growing demand for streaming content have been increasingly drawn to the New York and surrounding area, an area teeming with players and unions. New facilities that opened last year in Hudson County, NJ, and Westchester County, NY, are frequently booked, officials said, and more studios are in the works.

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

“The most important idea is for Newark to become a hub of creativity,” said John Schreiber, president and CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, a cultural anchor in Newark that was recently named developer of much of the site.

Great Point Studios plans to build the production center to be used primarily by Lionsgate, a company that created 26 Oscar-nominated films in the year after it bought the Starz cable operation in 2016.

Great Point chairman Robert Halmi Jr. said he’s still confident about the future of streaming despite news last month that Netflix had lost subscribers for the first time in a decade, a decline that sent stocks across the sector tumbling over fears that the model’s rapid growth was unsustainable.

The appetite for streaming original content, Halmi said, is here to stay. And sound stages where shows can be filmed indoors on a green screen or using LED technology are very expensive.

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

Several large sound stages opened last year across the Hudson River from New York in Kearny and City of Jersey. Dozens of productions, including award-winning films like ‘West Side Story’, ‘Joker’ and ‘Army of the Dead’ have recently filmed here.

that of Bayonne planning board gave the go-ahead for a 1.5 million square foot production facility, 1888 Studios, on the site of a former Texaco oil refinery. Plans are underway for a studio in West Orange, where inventor Thomas Edison created the first film studio. And a Netflix spokesperson has confirmed the company still intends to submit an offer next month to buy a roughly 300-acre parcel at Fort Monmouth, a former army base on the Jersey Shore. .

“We already had the resources in New Jersey — the human resources,” said Andrew Muscato, a film producer who lives in Jersey City, where he directed parts of “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” a war drama based on a memory which is slated to premiere on Apple TV+ later this year.

“The announcement of more production facilities seems like the final piece of the puzzle,” Muscato said.

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

In 2017, before New Jersey allowed tax breaks for the industry again, feature film directors spent $10 million statewide and TV series creators spent $38 million. . Last year, feature films injected $194 million into the economy and television shows contributed $247 million, according to the state’s Motion Picture and Television Commission.

“The industry has exploded here,” said commission executive director Steven Gorelick. “No one could have imagined this progress, so quickly.”

Newark’s six soundstages will each be at least 20,000 square feet, a size considered large enough to attract companies from popular production hubs in Georgia, New Mexico and California.

This has been Governor Philip D. Murphy’s goal for years.

He traveled to California in 2019 to get Hollywood executives interested in New Jersey. Two years later, he signed legislation that offered businesses that relocate or expand to New Jersey $14 billion in tax relief; legislation has significantly increased the tax reduction pool available until 2034 for companies building studios or movies in the state.

Last spring, after Georgia passed a law restricting voter access, the governor openly tried to poach production companies out of Georgia when activists called companies like Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros. to boycott the studios there.

More recently, Mr. Murphy noted that Georgia was likely to prohibit abortion if the Supreme Court, as expected, struck down a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, giving producers and directors even more reason to seek alternatives outside of this state.

“Georgia is going the wrong way on values ​​that are held dear by a lot of talent and the people behind the talent,” Murphy said.

The area around the housing complex, Seth Boyden Court, has been considered a good place to live for decades. Construction officials said a challenge during the demolition had been relocating the approximately 20 homeless people who returned at night to the complex’s buildings, which had been vacant since 2015.

But its location — “a baseball throw from the airport” and less than 15 miles from New York City — is ideal for actors, directors and crew members who will eventually work at Lionsgate Newark, Mr. Halmi.

“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 licensed a separate company, Boraie Development, to build 200 seniors’ housing on four acres of the site and up to 200 market-priced apartments nearby Victor Cirilo, director of Newark’s Authority housing, said.

“We think we’re really going to be able to bring this neighborhood back to life,” Cirilo said.

Downtown Newark has been booming for years. But neighborhoods farther from the city’s business heart, like the Dayton Street neighborhood where the studios are planned, continue to struggle. In addition to the hoped-for influx of money to spend in Newark, the new facility, in conjunction with the performing arts center, is expected to provide internships and educational programs for students in schools across the city.

Bill Good, a senior organizer with the Greater Newark HUD Tenants Coalition, said projects like Lionsgate Newark that are “shining and shiny new” often ignore the real needs of current Newark residents.

Developers, he said, should be required to replicate the same number of low-income housing units lost when Seth Boyden closed: 530. “Newark is in desperate need of low-income housing,” a said Mr. Good. “It should be a one-for-one replacement.”

He stressed that he was not opposed to the development or the new jobs that the project could generate, but said that preserve social housing was just as vital.

An economic impact study conducted for the performing arts center estimated that Lionsgate Newark would create 500 to 600 permanent jobs on site and bring in up to $800 million in economic activity. Much of the direct spending will likely initially be spent outside of New Jersey, according to analysis by JLL, a real estate services company.

But Newark and Essex County, NJ, “could, over time, develop the cottage industries” needed to retain some of that financial windfall, leading to about $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 who scramble to break into a notoriously competitive company.

Over the past two years, Jody Brockway, former vice president of movies and miniseries at NBC who now runs PA Boot Campvocational training company, led seven weekend class for future production assistants in New Jersey, often before major shoots.

“That’s where you start,” Ms. Brockway said. “You work your way up and progress.”

Pay is low, but can lead to more permanent jobs, either producing future shows or in the wide range of ancillary businesses.

“Once you have a studio,” she says, “now you build sets, now you hire carpenters. You hire painters. You hire people to wire everything up.

About Monty S. Maynard

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