Viacom planning Oz studio complex

Theme park expected to boost biz

SYDNEY — Viacom’s first studio and theme park outside North America will stem a locally disturbing decline in film and TV production in the southern Australian state of Victoria and boost the local economy by A$250 million ($162.5 million) annually.

Unveiling detailed plans today for the $325 million 29-hectare (71.6-acre) Melbourne Studio City, Viacom Australia managing director Paul Hameister said an Ernst & Young study found the complex will create 3,200 jobs, while the Victorian state economy would benefit by $130 million per annum from tourism and retail spending and $32 million a year from TV and film production spending.

The Melbourne’s Docklands site will open mid-2001 and comprise:

  • a theme park drawing on such Viacom properties as Paramount’s “Star Trek,” “Top Gun” and “Happy Days,” as well as Nickelodeon characters;

  • a waterfront wharf retail and entertainment precinct, including a hotel and a 16-screen cinema complex, while an agreement has been inked with Maxvision to develop and operate a 380-seat, 91.84-foot-diameter dome screen cinema using Iwerks Entertainment technology;

  • the Docklands Studios, for which Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network and Television & Media Services’ Global Television have inked an agreement to develop Oz’s first digital production studio.

Led by Viacom, other consortium members include Bruce Gordon’s regional Oz empire WIN Corp. and his production house Crawfords, Davies Corp., Macquarie Bank and the Pratt Group. With Seven and Global joining Crawfords as production tenants, Hameister said the number of soundstages would be increased from four to six to enable outside producers to work there.

The announcement came as the Victorian Film and TV Industry Working Party told the state government that Victoria’s production industry is now worth just $60 million annually, but if it had maintained the parity it had with New South Wales 10 years ago, it would be worth $130 million today.

“In the last five years, Victoria’s share of total Australian production has dropped from around 35% to 20%, while NSW has increased from around 38% to 58%,” said Hameister, adding that Studio City “will deliver the key infrastructure necessary to reverse this trend.”

The move comes as other states look to capitalize on the success of Sydney’s Fox Studios and Queensland’s Warner Roadshow Movie World on the state’s southeast Gold Coast, with feasibility studies under way to build more studios in Brisbane City and Far North Queensland.

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