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On Location: Raleigh Studios looks to expand into Utah

February 28, 2012 |  3:16 pm

John Carter Disney Utah

Raleigh Studios, the nation's largest independent studio facilities operator, is continuing to expand its reach across the country with plans to open a studio in Utah even as its sprawling new production complex in Michigan struggles to find tenants.

The Hollywood-based company, which already manages soundstages in Louisiana, Georgia and Budapest, Hungary, as well as closer to home in Playa Vista and Manhattan Beach -- where its A-list renter is James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment -- is working with a developer to build a $100-million-plus studio in Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival.

The proposed 374,000-square-foot project would include three 15,000-square-foot soundstages and a recording studio as well as several restaurants, shops and a hotel with up to 100 rooms, according to plans submitted to the city and county.

Raleigh is seeking to capitalize on steps by Utah to sweeten its film incentives. The state, which has hosted shooting for the upcoming, big-budget Disney release “John Carter,” recently increased its tax rebate from 20% to 25% of in-state production expenses.

Raleigh also wants to capture some business from the Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s most prominent independent film festival, held every January, primarily in Park City. The festival is run by  Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute.

“It’s a great way to extend our brand to the independent market," said Michael Newport, Raleigh's manager of marketing and client development. “We can help them out by providing them with the facilities that they can use.”

The project cleared a big hurdle in January when developer Greg Ericksen settled a long-running legal dispute with Summit County. Local officials had raised objections over the scope of the project and whether it would compete with the film festival.

But their concerns were allayed when Ericksen agreed to meet several conditions, including a guarantee that the development would not harm the festival and would comply with Park City’s design guidelines.

“Our biggest motivation was to be involved in the design of what it looks like because it's quite a bit bigger than the surrounding buildings and we wanted to make sure that it can be an asset to Sundance," Park City City Manager Tom Bakaly said. “We're a resort town and we have a brand, so we want to a make sure this movie studio and other activities surrounding it are consistent with that brand.”

Raleigh executives have had some preliminary discussions with Sundance officials about aspects of the project, including designs for a screening room, Newport said.

Jill Miller, Managing Director of Sundance Institute said “ “We have had discussions with Raleigh to understand what facilities they plan to build in Park City and whether they may be suited to our needs for the Sundance Film Festival.” 

If the plans are approved, construction should begin later this year with the first soundstages opening in 2013, Newport said.

Raleigh is certainly hoping for a better outcome than it has had since opening its studio last year in  Pontiac, Mich., which has been hard hit by the drop-off in filming in that state. 

The $76-million project was financed in part by $28 million in bonds issued by the Oakland County Economic Development Corp.  Earlier this month,  Raleigh missed a payment to bondholders, requiring the State of Michigan Retirement Systems to step in and make a $420,000 payment, according to the Michigan Treasury Department.

The studio’s seven soundstages have been mostly vacant since Disney wrapped production in January of its 2013 release “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi. Newport declined to discuss specific events that led to the default, but said the studio had lost considerable business last year after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder slashed the state's film tax-credit program, once one of the most generous in the country, and imposed a $25-million cap on it.

“We’re working to bring production back to the state," Newport said.

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-- Richard Verrier

Photo: Lynn Collins and Taylor Kitsch in a scene from the movie "John Carter." Credit: Frank Connor / Disney

Where the cameras roll
Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Clarita and Pasadena. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times
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