Supporters of a proposed movie studio-entertainment complex on the Catawba Indian Reservation are seeking the “right money at the right time.”
Studio South and the Catawba Indians are considering developing 124 acres on the reservation in eastern York County. The $350 million project calls for multiple sound stages, a hotel, a new Catawba Cultural Center, a school for film and music, retail, offices and a tour similar to what California studios offer.
The “right money at the right time,” Bert Hesse of Studio South says, is finding the least expensive funds for an estimated $2 million in pre-development or start-up costs.
Studio South is seeking government funds – primarily federal dollars – to cover the start-up costs because private dollars come with higher interest costs.
Studio South also asked York County to allocate $1 million in hospitality tax funds to the project to cover start-up costs. The council’s hospitality tax committee listened Tuesday as Hesse outlined where some of the funding might come from.
The committee took no action on Studio South’s request, saying it needs more information before making a recommendation to the York County Council.
Hesse said the financing lacks specifics because all possible funding sources are being investigated for the project.
Because the project is on Native American land, and the Catawbas will be partners, the development should qualify for a variety of federal grants, Hesse said.
The project should quality for almost $1.5 million in federal grants for roads, bridges and other work to prepare the site for development, Hesse said. The project also is seeking federal funds for pre-development costs, he said.
Requests for state or local funds will likely be limited because the project is on tribal land, Hesse said. The biggest thing South Carolina could do to help the project would be to increase its incentives for the film project, Hesse said.
The project between Studio South and the Catawba Indians is similar to one that Hesse pitched to the Charlotte City Council in 2012. He proposed a $125 million movie studio project at the then standing, but vacant, Eastland Mall.
“That project was not the right time in the right place,” he said Tuesday. “I’m happy it didn’t work out,” because North Carolina has gutted its film incentives, he said.
Hesse said two Indian tribes have expressed interest in the project. He declined to specify which tribes are interested, stating they are eastern tribes, one in the north and one in the south.
The Seneca Indian Nation recently visited the Catawba Indian Nation. The Seminoles are said to be interested in branding opportunities for a possible Catawba casino in North Carolina. The Seminoles operate the Hard Rock restaurants and casinos.
If funding is secured, Hesse said groundbreaking on the $45 million first phase could begin in the spring of 2016. Phase one would be constructing four sound stages and the tour operations.
As proposed, the Catawbas would continue to own the property. Studio South would manage financing the project, construction and management of sound stages and other operations, Hesse said.
Catawba Indian Chief Bill Harris couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment.