Gotham gives green light to $375 mil studio

Project to be named Studio City New York

NEW YORK — In what could be a major boon for the ailing film, television and commercial production businesses in Gotham, a consortium of investors including Lehman Brothers, Hines, the PB Group and Pacifica Ventures have committed an estimated $375 million to develop and construct a full-service, 700,000-square-foot, 15-story studio complex in the heart of Manhattan.

Project, to be named Studio City New York and located on the square block between 44th and 45th Streets and 10th and 11th Avenues, will break ground by year’s end. Construction is scheduled to take two years. Studio could be open for business by the end of 2004.

The city has long sought more studio space — in Harlem, Staten Island and Brooklyn. The frustrated attempt by Miramax and Tribeca Films to lease space from the Brooklyn Navy Yard seemed to highlight the difficulty even high-profile companies have had in launching large-scale studio endeavors near Manhattan. But plans for SCNY have taken the New York film community by surprise, and many leaders are thrilled, especially following the lull in production that hit last fall.

It’s too early to decipher what the planned stages could mean in terms of loss of business in L.A., but East Coast production companies longing for back-lot facilities and other major services could stay put instead of making the trip westward.

“We see it as a great enhancement to the continuing expansion of film and television production in New York City,” said Patricia Scott, commission of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting, which has been active in post-Sept. 11 production recovery efforts.

“We did not want to come out and say what we were doing until we did it,” Richard Benowitz, managing principal for the PB Group, told Daily Variety. “But now I can say we are building a vertical Hollywood lot right in the center of Manhattan. You will be able to do your entire production right in the heart of the city.”

Continued Benowitz: “Location, location, location. We just wanted to be as convenient as possible to everyone. We were fortunate enough to find this 92,000-square-foot lot.”

Lee Tomlinson, a principal with the project and its marketing and sales director, said, “Cost is secondary. There is an enormous creative community in New York that regularly leaves town because they have to. On a practical level, we think that a significant portion of the production that goes out of the country will come here now. Talent lives here. We want this to be the East Coast place to go.”

Benowitz said SCNY will have more than 70,000 square feet of stages, which includes seven stages ranging in size from 4,000 to 30,000 square feet. An acre on the building’s ninth floor will be designated as a ‘backlot” for location shooting and exterior shots. Penthouse will be a special zone dedicated to key talent and execs.

Benowitz came up with the idea of a Manhattan studio two years ago but said it took that long to get approvals from the city council and other agencies. Included in the plan, to be designed by architects Meridian Design Associates, is 400,000 square feet of permanent office space, with views of the Hudson River and the New York skyline.

SCNY hopes to attract full-time tenants. Benowitz says he is in talks with national and international multimedia production companies interested in making the studio their East Coast home. SCNY also hopes to enlist a primary anchor tenant, after whom the building will be named.

In a statement, Benowitz said: “We’re trying to create a total content-creation facility, where content producers can move from development to pre-production, to production to post-production, all in one building. Other ventures have been predicated on soundstages only.”

Building will have a state-of-the-art digital broadband technology infrastructure. Dining areas, entrances, conference centers, penthouse suites and retail stores all will be “video-active,” suitable for filming or broadcasting live.

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