Goal is to lure pix away from Vancouver, Montreal

TORONTO — Build it and filmmakers will come.

That’s the strategy of the city of Toronto and Toronto Film Studios, which unveiled plans Wednesday for a new C$175 million ($131 million) mega-studio with 1.25 million square feet of sound stages, commercial and retail facilities, living and working space and public areas to revitalize Toronto’s Portland district.

Goal is to attract Hollywood blockbusters to Toronto, where production activity has lagged behind that in Vancouver and Montreal in recent years due to a shortage of sound stages.

“We hear frustration all the time, producers saying, ‘Why can’t you give me four stages?’ and then they pass us by,” said Toronto Film Studios prexy Ken Ferguson.

“The Toronto Film/Media Complex will be a huge boost for the industry, which has been faced with serious challenges over the last few years,” said Jeff Steiner, prexy and CEO of the Toronto Economic Development Corp. (Tedco). It owns the 30 acres of prime waterfront land in downtown Toronto on which the development will be built.

Production in Toronto has tanked since its peak of C$1 billion ($750 million) in 2000. Last year $656 million was spent lensing in Canada’s most populous city. Vancouver, by contrast, led the country with $1.1 billion in business. British Columbia pulled ahead of the province of Ontario after embarking on a studio building blitz six years ago.

Unlike projects in Montreal and Vancouver, Toronto Film Studios has no public subsidy for the project.

Also known as the Portlands project, the Toronto Film/Media Complex will be built in phases over five years.

First phase, set to begin construction in 2005 and open in early 2006 at a cost of $30 million, will include five or six sound stages (a 45,000-square-foot mega-stage will be one of the world’s largest purpose-built stages). The Sony Stage in L.A. is, by comparison, 43,000 square feet.

In all, the complex will provide 750,000 square feet of professional studio facilities. Included will be 13 state-of-the-art sound stages averaging 18,000 square feet and a set designed for underwater filming. There will also be streetscapes for exterior lensing.

The remaining 500,000 square feet is planned for commercial and retail space, housing, a hotel and conference facilities, a film school and fitness center.

On June 18 Tedco declared a consortium led by the Toronto Film Studios the winner of a heated contest to develop the project.

A subsidiary of real estate development company the Rose Corp., Toronto Film Studios manages 360,000 square feet of studio facilities in Toronto. Its bid beat those of Blighty’s Pinewood Shepperton Studios, Toronto’s Comweb Group with O&Y Properties and Giffels-Design Build with Raleigh Studios of L.A.

Project has been in the offing since 2002, and some feared that it would never materialize after Sequence Development Group of San Diego, which along with Pinewood Shepperton was to develop the site, backed out a year ago upon failing to find tenants and financing.

Potential competitor Hamilton Film Studios, a 500,000-square-foot facility an hour west of Toronto, closed shop last week, less than 10 months after opening its doors.

About 25,000 workers are employed in the local film biz.

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