It's the first such program in Latin America

Moving to lure production to the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is officially launching its production incentive program next week.

It’s being touted as the first such significant incentive program in Latin America — outside the United States commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The program’s key elements provide a 25% transferable tax credit for features and TV series shot in the country, with $500,000 minimum to qualify and an expedited customs process.

The nation’s legislature OK’d the program in November and the regulations are due to be signed into law as early as Monday by president Leonel Fernández — a particularly speedy implementation of a law, according to Rocio Pellerano, vice consel at the country’s Miami consulate.

“This is the president’s personal project and it’s designed to take advantage of how attractive our country is,” she said. “We have seven international airports and all kinds of scenery including tropical forest, beaches, highways and ghettos. The workforce for the film industry is non-union and it’s extremely safe.”

The country’s not a stranger to film production as it’s been the site for shooting on “The Godfather II,” “The Good Shepherd,” “Jurassic Park,” Miami Vice” and “Lost City,” but Pellerano believes the incentives will elevate her country’s profile when it comes to attracting a steady flow of projects.

In anticipation of the incentive program, Indomina Group held a groundbreaking ceremony in February as part of a partnership agreement with London-based Pinewood Studios Group to operate, manage and market a production facility in the beach town of Juan Dolio on the Dominican Republic’s southern coast, about 40 miles east of capitol city Santo Domingo.

Dubbed Pinewood Indomina Studios, the 35-acre facility will initially have 5,000 square meters of soundstages, 15,000 square meters of production support facilities and a 75-meter-by-75-meter exterior water tank.

Anthony Smith, VP of corporate finance for Indomina, said the facilities — with a pricetag of about $50 million — should be operational by the fourth quarter of next year with the water tank ready to go in the first quarter of 2013. “We think the tank will be the best in the world,” he added.

The move by the Dominican may have prompted Puerto Rico to up the ante in the Caribbean. The commonwealth signed a new law in March that expanded the existing 40% production tax credit to include TV programs and documentaries along with allowing producers to claim a 20% tax credit for hiring non-residents.

Hal “Corky” Kessler, an attorney who came on board recently to advise the Dominican and Indomina, told Variety he believes the Dominican program will be successful in drawing new projects to the island. He said the regulations include a provision that’s particularly attractive to U.S. producers since it will allow them to spend up to 25% of their wages in the Dominican while keeping their federal tax incentive status under Internal Revenue Code section 181 as part of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.

Indomina has cited projections of growth in spending on filmed entertainment in Latin America at a 4.5% compound annual rate to $3.1 billion in 2013 from $2.5 billion in 2008.

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