Catawba Studios eyes June groundbreaking in York County

If public and private funding is secured soon, the Catawba Indian Nation could break ground on a $350 million movie studio project in June.

Studio South and the Catawba Indians, under the name “Catawba Studios,” want to develop 124 acres on the reservation off Sturgis Road in eastern York County. Planned are multiple sound stages, a “five-star” hotel, a new Catawba Cultural Center, a school for film and music, retail, offices and a tour similar to what California studios offer.

The first phase would be sound stages and the visitors center. Estimated cost is about $45 million. Construction would take about a year, project officials said.

So far the venture has spent $485,000, said Bert Hesse of Studio South.

Project funding could come from Tribal Economic Development Bonds, private investors and York County.

The tribe is meeting with federal officials next month to determine how much bond money could be allocated to the project. Each tribe has access to about $265 million in Tribal Economic Development Bonds, according to Catawba Indian officials.

Hesse said the venture has letters of intent supporting the venture from a hotel operator, a solar company and a security firm. He said investors interested in the project are writing “six-figure checks” to help fund the studio.

The venture has asked York County for $1 million in hospitality tax funds to cover “soft” development costs. Hesse and Catawba Indian officials briefed the county’s Hospitality Tax Committee Thursday. It was one of several meetings the group has held with the county committee.

Members of the committee repeated an earlier request for more detailed financial information before making a decision.

Jackie Canty, the tribe’s economic development director, said more specific financial information should be available once feasibility and economic impact studies are complete. Canty said the tribe recently received a $189,390 federal economic development grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help pay for the studies.

Canty said he hopes to have the studies completed before May 1. The studies should provide the data to submit a more detailed budget, he said.

The tribe has applied for federal road funds to extend Sturgis Road into the site and to build a bridge over wetlands. The main entrance to the site is proposed to be off a yet-to-be-built portion of Dave Lyle Boulevard.

York County collects a 2-percent hospitality tax on the sale of prepared food and beverages sold in eating/drinking establishments in the unincorporated areas of York County. A 1-percent hospitality tax is collected within the corporate limits of Hickory Grove, McConnells, Sharon and Smyrna. Clover, Fort Mill, Rock Hill, Tega Cay and York collect their own hospitality tax.

The Hospitality Tax committee reviews projects and makes recommendations to county supervisors. At Thursday’s meeting, committee members asked the Catawba Indians if they would remit a percentage of food and beverage sales to York County. Canty said that could be negotiated.

Don Worthington: 803-329-4066, @rhherald_donw