COVINGTON, Ga. - Tuesday will be exactly one year since Three Ring Studios (TRS) signed a short-term lease on 200 acres of property in the City of Covington. In that year, the movie studio has exceeded its goal of negotiating a long-term lease by getting eight steps closer to breaking ground on “Georgia’s most innovative studio facility.”
“The process of going through this was to sign a one-year short-term lease, which expires next week actually and the sole purpose of that one-year lease was to give us leeway to negotiate a long-term lease,” TRS President Rahim Charania said. “That was the sole purpose. That’s all we were supposed to get done.”
While a long-term lease was the only thing TRS was supposed to get done, a lot more has happened in that one year. In the past year, Charania and his team have completed the following:
- Long-term lease negotiated
- Tax issues with Newton County completed and filed
- Civil engineering completed
- Land disturbance permit completed
- Soundstage architecture for the first soundstage completed and submitted to the City of Covington
- Development regional impact completed and approved
- Site cleared
- Central site cleared for sewer
Charania said in the beginning he was excited and rushed through some of the work. Since then, he has taken a step back and slowing down the pace to make sure every “I” is dotted and ever “T” is crossed instead of taking shortcuts that could be detrimental in the end.
“Our experience has showed us, you are a better steward of your community when you measure twice and cut once,” Charania said.
By taking its time, TRS will be able to grow with its customer’s needs while allowing Covington and Newton County to also take advantage of the growth.
Charania, along with his team, is working to guarantee TRS is looking beyond the tax credit for continued growth in the city and county no matter the future of the film industry.
“We want to build a facility that no matter what happens to the tax credit, not matter what happens to a single market, no matter what happens to a single industry, it can grow and adapt and contribute to the community,” he said.
Progress behind the scenes
“When I hear a comment saying ‘Why is nothing happening?’ I say, you need to spend a day with us in the office because there’s not a day when something isn’t happening,” Charania said. “Quite honestly, it’s something we wake up in the morning thinking about and something we go to sleep at night thinking about.”
Charania said TRS is working to build a space that puts the City of Covington and Newton County on the map.
“As a community we’ve been focused too much on the labor work,” he said. “Newton County is progressing. Labor work isn’t good enough for us anymore. We’re not trying to be construction central. We’re not trying to get construction jobs. That’s not what we’re trying to grow into.
“We’re going into a professional epicenter where the white collar jobs are going to far outpace the manual labor jobs.”
Charania said it is about changing the mindset that “it’s not real until we see it,” a mindset that has plagued “small town U.S.A.” and stunted the growth of small towns.
“Under those scenarios, oxygen isn’t real,” he said. “But it is life-giving and without it we don’t exist.”
A paradigm shift is required to review how work is viewed.
“Is it only real when my hands get dirty? Because nobody here is dirtying their hands, by the way,” he said. “Our work today in America is not manual, it is intellectual; it is not processed, it is innovative.”
Setting the stage for progress
Charania said in the total $109 million project, TRS’s primary goal right now is the south campus, which will include 250,000 square feet of soundstage space split into seven buildings, 45,000 square feet of mill space split into three buildings, Herc Rentals regional distribution center, Class-A office space and parking.
So far, Charania has invested $1 million into TRS. Over the next 18 month, the budget is to spend around $40 million.
Right now, work is being done to connect TRS to the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority through a lift station located on the central campus. The path for the sewer has been cleared.
The central campus will be leased for backlot purposes once the detention pond and sewer lines are installed.
“We have to build the best mouse trap,” Charania said. “We have to. It is not a prerogative; it is not a choice; it is a business and survival imperative. Why? Because Pinewood Studios is a heavy-hitter and they have a lot of capabilities to be very competitive. The other facilities that are coming up are all within a close proximity of 285 or the real central part of the area, it’s easier to get to. Covington is further out. We have to give them one hell of a reason to come further out. The beautiful thing is, they’re already coming here. They’re already making movies here.”
‘Our community has no idea’
Charania said Covington’s brand “Hollywood of the South” has transformed from just a brand into a reality for the city.
“What’s so great,” Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. “When you sit here and listen to him say, I know it comes from the heart, but what’s so funny is our community has no idea the impact this is going to have on this community.”
Johnston said TRS can help move Covington into a community that has zero unemployment and zero poverty.
To better prepare, Charania encouraged residents to become informed. More information can be obtained about the project at threeringstudios.com.