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Lights, cameras…Texas: Big new studios are arriving

John Bleasby
Lights, cameras…Texas: Big new studios are arriving
COURTESY FOLEY DESIGN — Shown is a rendering of the Hill Country Studio in Texas when completed.

The movie industry has been very good to Texas over the years.

The state government says the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program (TMIIIP) has created $1.75 billion in spending and 162,000 jobs from 2007 to mid-2021.

In 2020 alone, the TMIIIP was responsible for the creation of 3,819 local jobs and approximately $110 million of in-state spending through 21 projects.

The TMIIIP is focused on actual productions, providing cash grants for qualifying entertainment projects based on a percentage of its Texas expenditures, including eligible wages paid to Texas residents.

The payback is significant. For every dollar granted, producers spend $5.11 in-state. Each movie adds an average of $250,000 per day to the local economy.

However, state incentives are not the only tax breaks available. Local governments offer incentives to set up permanent production facilities around Texas. The result is a steady flow of new movie studio investments.

In June this year, the City of San Marcos, located between San Antonio and Austin, confirmed property rebates to a new facility named Hill Country Studio, an overall investment projected to be $267 million.

The city would start with rebates of 90 per cent of the assessed property taxes once the facilities are completed in 2025, decreasing to 20 per cent at the end of their agreement with studio investors. While the rebates would total an estimated $3.7 million, the city still expects to collect more than $11 million over the next 10 years.

The economic spinoffs are noteworthy. Hill Country Studio will ultimately employ at least 44 people full time with average salaries of $100,000, plus approximately 1,200 contract workers with salaries averaging $80,000. There are also plans for a student internship program.

Hill Country Studios was founded in 2020 by Cory McLoud and Zach Price of Hill Country Group, plus a creative management team with decades of combined industry experience. The group behind the new studio is joined by U.K.-based studio consultant David Godfrey and architect Bill Foley, each described as “two of the world’s top experts in studio design and operations.”

The buildout will result in 820,000 square feet of construction covering 75 acres of a 209 acre plot, making it the second largest film studio being developed in the Austin area. Construction will be undertaken in three phases beginning April 2023. When complete, the project will include 12 sound stages, 15 acres of outdoor production space, modular offices and workshops. Vendor and commercial space will occupy 25 acres.

Meanwhile, 35 miles east of Austin, a new studio called Bastrop 552 plans to open in August next year. The overall facility, when finished in two years, will encompass about one million square feet of studio, warehouse/mill and office space spread over 546 acres near the Colorado River.

Similar to San Marcos and Hill Country Studios, Bastrop City Council has designated the Bastrop 552 development as a media production development zone, resulting in a two-year exemption from sales and use taxes on items associated with the facility’s construction.

Furthermore, city council entered a Chapter 380 economic agreement with Bastrop Colorado Bend LLC, the project’s backers, for other financial incentives that include partial reimbursements of property taxes, sales taxes and administrative fee waivers.

The Bastrop 552 facility is expected to generate $177.8 million in annual economic activity at its completion, including nearly 1,500 permanent jobs plus more than $100 million spent during construction.

Over in Elgin just east of Austin, one of the area’s most established studio properties has new leaseholders. Spiderwood Studios 969 is now looking at a new master plan under the leadership of Spark Rover Entertainment LLC. Later this year, it is hoped the 152-acre site that already includes sound stages and back lot space will be expanded into a diversified entertainment destination. Props and scene builder Lucky Giraffe LLC and the media arts program of the Art Institute of Austin are currently based there, but it is hoped that expansion will include high-tech studio space, an amphitheatre and possibly a hotel.

Also attracted to the Austin area is leading edge film studio Stray Vista Studios. In partnership with VU̅ Technologies, this will bring the first full-size Virtual Production Volume (VPV) to Texas. VPV is the latest development in moving image creation for films, commercials and television, combining video shooting on a soundstage with a specially-constructed and curved LED wall and ceiling, with a massive interactive filming background called the Volume.

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