$125 million movie studio may come to York County

A $125-million movie studio project once proposed for Eastland Mall in Charlotte may be coming to York County.

Studio South has formed a joint venture with a York County property owner to potentially develop 70 acres either in, or near, Rock Hill, said Bert Hesse, the company’s chief executive officer. The complex would be similar to what was proposed in Charlotte: eight sound stages, retail and office space, a hotel and an educational component, he said.

What’s different is the project would be built on private, not publicly-owned, land.

A ground-breaking ceremony could be held by the end of the year, with the first sound stage operational within a year, Hesse said Tuesday. It would take several years to complete the project, with the hotel being the final component. When completed, the complex could create up to 800 jobs, he said.

Dana Arnold, chief operating officer for one of Studio South’s partners, Pacifica Ventures, said that while his company has expressed an interest to the state Department of Commerce and the S.C. Film Commission, the Rock Hill project is in its preliminary stages and no final decisions have been made.

Studio South’s interest comes six months after the Charlotte City Council ended discussions with Hesse on the Eastland project, saying Hesse had not provided enough detailed information. Hesse said he had given the city enough information and that his partners advised him not to disclose more.

Charlotte officials, Hesse said, “were uninformed on who we are, what we can do.”

Hesse said if there are any questions about whether he can do what he promises, people only have to look at his business partners. According to Studio South’s website, the company’s partners include Leidos, previously know as SAIC, a firm that provides scientific, engineering, systems integration, and technical services, and Pacifica Ventures.

Pacifica, with headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., has film studios in Albuquerque, N.M., and Philadelphia. A Studio South in Atlanta is under construction and a site in Austin, Texas, is being evaluated, Hesse said.

Arnold confirmed Pacifica Ventures’ partnership with Studio South.

Leidos Engineering, with headquarters in Reston, Va., provided preliminary design work and site layout for the Charlotte project, according to a company spokesman, and “has the proven design-build expertise and capabilities to deliver another solution for Studio South at a future project site.”

Hesse also said an unnamed development partner would “alleviate any anxiety” over the project.

Marion Edmonds, director of communications for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said the department will “follow closely” the Studio South project. Edmonds said Studio South has talked about the project to the state’s film commission, which is a division of PRT.

“We will help in anyway we can,” Edmonds said. The project’s impact statewide would depend on “how busy” the studio is, he said.

South Carolina has a number of film incentives that were used by television shows such as “Army Wives” on the Lifetime network and “Reckless” on CBS. Edmonds said films or shows produced at the studio could qualify for such incentives.

Hesse said North Carolina’s “dismantling” of its film incentives was one reason the company started looking elsewhere. He declined to disclose the possible location in York County, citing a confidentially agreement with the land owner.

Studio South has not talked with local economic development officials or with York County or Rock Hill officials, Hesse said. Those conversations should start soon. Hesse said he has a meeting with an important “community official” Wednesday but declined to identify the person.

Hesse said several South Carolina land owners were interested in the project, but Studio South focused on York County because of its:

• Proximity to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

• Proximity to Charlotte, which has an established film industry.

• Access to gigabit Internet service and consistent utility services. Film studios are large consumers of energy, technology and bandwidth, Hesse said. Services offered by Comporium and Duke Energy are a factor in making a decision, he said.

If the York County site is suitable, Hesse said, Studio South would likely pursue “appropriate incentives” from the state and York County.