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Posted: April 27, 2013 5:32 p.m.

Film studio project moving forward

Local company Triple Horse’s plan to build a $38-million film studio complex in Newton County is moving forward as the company continues to work on a business plan, explore financing options and meet with state officials before continuing to pursue land for the complex.

Triple Horse, a multifaceted media company with 11 subsidiaries, announced plans April 11 to eventually build a $100 million studio complex to rival those in Hollywood; the initial $38-million phase, the company said, would include five high-quality soundstages for filming.

Where the project stands

The studio announcement was officially released at the end of a more than hour-long presentation to unveil the new tourism website, GoCovington.com, of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. The story of Triple Horse’s project was picked up by several local, state and regional media and has put Covington, which has trademarked the title "Hollywood of the South," further into the spotlight.

At the April 11 announcement, Triple Horse officials unveiled a site plan that showed the $100 million complex laid out on a 168-acre tract of land owned by the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, a government group that is tasked with facilitating large business development in the county.

At the time, chamber President Hunter Hall told a small gathering of community officials that the structure and terms of the land deal were confidential, as the deal was still in progress.

Triple Horse made an initial presentation to the industrial development authority March 26, according to authority Chair Danny Stone. All authority members agreed they were interested in the project and wanted more information to move forward, he said.

The 168-acre tract is not under contract and no details nor incentives have been agreed to, Stone said, adding he hopes the parties can move forward soon. The next meeting is expected to include a presentation of Triple Horse’s business plan. Incentive discussions would likely pick up after that.

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said he personally believes the project is a home run and said the city also has land available that it could potentially offer to facilitate a deal.

The state Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office, a division of the economic development department, met with Triple Horse this week and assigned a project manager to the expansion efforts, a move director Lee Thomas said happens with all potential projects.

Triple Horse CEO Karl Horstmann said Thursday the state was very supportive of the expansion efforts, which could be key in Georgia’s efforts to attract comic-book based  film projects, such as recent Marvel projects "The Avengers" and the "Iron Man" series, which have some of the biggest budgets in the industry — in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

For his part, Horstmann continues to explore the best way to finance the project, he said. In the last two months, Triple Horse has talked with private equity firms, investor groups, a bonding attorney and investment bankers, any of which could provide the means to structure a deal. He said a project’s funding rarely comes from one place.

For example, a bond could be an option because of low interest rates, and the bond could be backed with private equity.

Of course, public funding, including incentives, will also be discussed.

Stone said Thursday he didn’t have enough details to discuss specifics, but said he imagined the industrial development authority would likely offer some type of incentive package and property for a promising $38 million project.

Some local officials wondered why the project was announced publicly before details were final, but Horstmann said the move was strategic to help the company solidify its plan.

He said his phone has been ringing off the hook as people look to get involved in the project.

In addition, two other Georgia counties and a suburban area of Nashville have reached out to Triple Horse, offering to help locate the company in their communities if the current deal falls through, he said.

Hortsmann said the company wants to expand in its home of Newton County and wanted to announce the plan to get in front of some other project announcements, including the recent 12 soundstage project in Gwinnett County.

He said the timing of the announcement was perfect as the slow news environment allowed Triple Horse’s announcement to be picked up across the country.

Horstmann said he hopes construction can start in the fall; once construction starts, he said previously, the studios would be up and running in a year.

Hall said Saturday the chamber is 100 percent committed to the Triple Horse project.

He said previously the project was two years in the making.

Film studio market exploding

Triple Horse is just one of a number of Georgia companies and developers that have announced plans to build soundstages this year. The state’s film industry brought in $3.1 billion in revenue in 2012.

The developer behind Atlantic Station in midtown Atlanta announced plans to build 12 soundstages, totaling 400,000 square feet, as part of a 100-acre mixed-use development that also would  include a hotel, school campus dedicated to film production, and other film production and post-production offices.

Previously, Atlanta investment group Rivers Rock announced plans to build five soundstages, with the option for much more in the future, in Fayette County. The Fayette County Commission approved rezoning 122 acres in the county in late March. The studios will be associated with Pinewood Studios, a British film company that’s one of the most prominent in the world.

Other projects have also been announced in Effingham and Henry counties.

While plans of the other site plans of the other projects have not been released, Triple Horse might have the advantage of a comprehensive plan that includes several features not mentioned in other projects, including a water tank with a sky backdrop to shoot multiple types of water scenes; a giant exterior greenscreen in front of which sets can be built; a detention pond that will be turned into a shootable lake; private bungalows to be used as executive suites; a construction shop; backlots for storage of trailers and equipment; buildings for makeup and wardrobe; and several post-production buildings.

All of those aspects for planned for later phases, but the 168-acre tract would allow all of that to be built with space left over for even more future development.

Thomas, the state director of the film office, said the state had not seen anything like the water tank proposed before.

Hortsmann said there are none of the eastern seaboard, and only a few in Los Angeles and around the world.

One of the biggest assets to the industrial development authority property is its hardwood trees. Horstmann said the architect told them not to cut down any trees prematurely. The built-in scenery could provide another filming advantage the location as forests are hard to find in Los Angeles.

When asked whether the projects would glut the market, Thomas said, "Our growth has been more than a 1,000 percent in five years — we are only expecting it to continue to grow. These infrastructure developments are in response to the demand.

"We are very supportive of any new infrastructure projects that come to Georgia. We currently have 34 projects (TV series, feature films, TV movies, movies of the week and TV pilots) in various stages of production in Georgia right now."

Hortsmann said he has already received multiple letters of intent from producers to film at Triple Horse’s future facility if the company builds it.

However, Hortsmann wants more than filming, he wants all of the post production work (editing, color correcting, sound editing, etc.), which is why the suite of post-production offices will be key to the project.

Post production can account for the third of a film’s budget and keeping that money in Georgia too would be huge.

Right now, nearly all post production is still sent to Los Angeles, even most of Atlanta resident Tyler Perry’s work, Horstmann said.

One other advantage Triple Horse could have is an already-made website that targets location scouts and producers. The "On Location" portion of the chamber’s new tourism website, GoCovington.com, is a microsite that Hall said previously can be pulled off the site and given directly to Triple Horse later when a studio complex is built.

Triple Horse Chief Operating Officer Dale Weller said the company could expand from 15 to 50 full-time employees when the studio is up and running.

Employment would increase into the hundreds when large film projects came to town.

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