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Pinewood still backing iffy Toronto complex

TORONTO — Blighty’s Pinewood Shepperton Studios reaffirmed its commitment to a new C$150 million ($103 million) mega-studio complex in Toronto on Thursday after the developer pulled out last week, but some still doubt whether the project will get off the ground.

The Sequence Development Group of San Diego withdrew because tenants and financing failed to materialize for the 1.25 million square foot Toronto Film/Media Complex, nicknamed the Portlands Project.

The project was launched in February 2002 with the Toronto Economic Development Corp. (TEDCO), HOK Architects, Toronto-based Shoot City, and Pinewood Shepperton.

TEDCO has hired new consultants and Pinewood-Shepperton CEO Ivan Dunleavy says he’s still throwing the studio’s weight behind the project. “Toronto continues to miss out on major film productions that go to other cities with larger, purpose-built sound stage facilities,” Dunleavy said.

Others continue to express doubts about the project’s viability.

“They have a lot of challenges,” said Ken Ferguson, prexy of Toronto Film Studios, Canada’s largest film and TV studio complex. “They’re not going to find a white knight that’s going to throw a gazillion dollars in. The business plan didn’t work before, that’s why the developer pulled out, and nothing’s changed.”

Another nail in the coffin is the nearby Great Lakes Studios Project. Work on converting the former hydro generating plant into a studio has been underway since September.

“You’re inviting people to bid on something against known competition,” said Ferguson. “I think it’s going to be a tough sell.”

He has long complained that TFS was shut out of bidding in the first round, and although he hopes to be invited to participate in the next round, he said that doesn’t mean they’d wish to participate.

TFS would not compete with any new mega-studio as its 360,000 square feet of space is spread over 15 shooting stages across the city.

TFS closed a deal Thursday to acquire Alliance Atlantis’s seven-acre, 85,000 square foot Toronto studio and production facility, Cinevillage. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Alliance Atlantis will remain as a key tenant at the facility, where programming for AAC’s specialty channels, including HGTV Canada, Life Network and Food Network Canada, is produced.

Recent productions lensed at TFS include, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “The Tuxedo,” “Bulletproof Monk,” and “Ararat.” The addition of Cinevillage, with its emphasis for broadcast production, “puts us into a sector of the industry that we haven’t had many dealings with and it gives us a relationship with Alliance Atlantis, which we’re very excited about,” said Ferguson.

(Debra Johnson in London contributed to this report)

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