Toronto developers merge building plans

MONTREAL — Two huge studio projects planned for Toronto will unite to form one mega-facility.

The Portlands studio, being developed by the City of Toronto Economic Development Corp. (Tedco), and the Great Lakes Studios Project, run by the Toronto-based Comweb Group, plan to set up complementary facilities in Toronto’s waterfront area.

For months, industry observers have warned against building two competing studios side-by-side, saying there is room for only one new studio in the city.

Making matters worse, it has been a slow year for Hollywood film shoots in Canada’s largest city due to fears stemming from the SARS epidemic and aggressive competition from other countries.

The Portlands project will feature state-of-the-art soundstages and post-production facilities, while the Great Lakes Studios will have effects stages more suitable for large-scale action sequences.

Reconciling the two projects is a major step forward for both, said Paul Bronfman, president of the Comweb Group.

“We can’t have two complexes competing with each other,” Bronfman said. “It just doesn’t make sense. Now we’ll work together. We have an agreement to come up with one facility.”

But this is not the final stage in the long, troubled process to build these studios. Tedco also said Wednesday that it is inviting bids from a company or consortium of companies to construct the Portlands film studio. Announcement confirms that the original consortium, which included Blighty’s Pinewood Shepperton Studios, is no longer part of the project. But Pinewood could be part of the bidding.

Ken Ferguson, president of Toronto Film Studios, one of the city’s leading studios, said his company has yet to decide whether it’ll put in a bid to try to build the Portlands studio. Ferguson said the city desperately needs more state-of-the-art studio space, noting that it has much less studio space than Montreal. “Toronto really doesn’t have big studios and it definitely affects our ability to draw big pictures here,” Ferguson said.

Both Ferguson and Bronfman said it’s been a tough year for U.S. shooting in Toronto but that things are slowly picking up.

Toronto Film Studios has fewer feature shoots but it has compensated by picking up three U.S. series: “1-800-Missing” and “Wild Card,” both for Lifetime, and WB series “Tarzan and Jane.”

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