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Stephens: The start of a new day for Covington, 'The Hollywood of the South'

Covington has been long known as the “Hollywood of the South” as many movies and Television series have been produced in our community.  On October 17, 2019, a historical step will be taken in making even a stronger claim to that title.   On that day ground will be broken for the work to begin on the South Campus of Three Rings Studio.   During October the needed concrete pads will be poured.   This is first one of three campuses to be constructed.

Olivia Schmitz, Director of Studio Operations for Three Rings, said that this first phase will have three Studio Buildings, each with two sound stages.  There will also be three building for mills shops, as well as an office module.   The South Campus will be protected with two security gates.  Work is expected to begin shortly after the groundbreaking.

This South Campus will have 130,500 square feet of sound stage for movies and television productions.   There will also be 21,000 square feet of support space, and 60,000 square feet for workshop and mill space.  A part of this first campus will be 20 paved base camp acres.   

This campus will open many doors for production in the “Hollywood of the South.”   Much of what is produced at outside locations will move indoors. Although you will still see crews around town as you do now.   Just not as often.   For example, during the month of September three different weeks have seen filming on the Square.  The indoor production space will mean less inconvenience for all.

One great statement being made by this groundbreaking is that not only is the film industry strong, it is going to be stronger.   There have been rumors of the industry leaving our state.  Issues such as the new abortion bill is one facture that these rumors point to.  While this column is not on that issue, I do recognize the forces beyond our local control can affect our community.  What is happening on October 17th says we are going to stay the “Hollywood of the South.”

Can you remember as a child dropping a rock into a still pond and watching the ripples circle out?  

Well, this groundbreaking is much like that.   There are ripples that will help much of our community. One is the way “Three Rings” will grow the grid for our electrical utilities.  As you are probably aware of decisions made about ten years ago obligate the City of Covington, along with more than 41 other municipal utility companies to an increase in rates.  This was done by 42 of the municipalities out of 49 in our state. We reduce the impact on the average customer when we grow the grid.  A lot of electricity is used by places such as Three Rings.  One example of this usage is the Pine Wood Studios in Fayetteville.  It is one of the largest users of electricity in Fayette County.

Another economic ripple from the coming of Three Rings is the jobs that will be created.  Having a permanent base for film production will encourage the workforce to be a part of our community.  The more permanent workforce means more business for local merchants.  It also encourages people to be a part of the training being offered at Piedmont Technical College.  A part of the economic ripples are the businesses directly tied to the film industry such as the Herc Rental that is now open next to where the South Campus will be built.

Still another ripple is tourism.   Many from literally around the world are drawn to Covington to see where the productions they enjoy were made.  You probably have seen the “tours” around our community.  Tourism is important.  It is said to make up ten percent of the world’s economy.  Being the “Hollywood of the South” is one major way we attract tourists.  And their coming means business for a variety of our local merchants.

Another impact of Three Rings coming to our community is the encouragement of construction for housing for those working there and in other industries in our community.   Fourteen acres have been purchased as a part of nearby Town Center for the construction of apartments that will begin soon. .  Also, two sites in Town Center have been purchased for the construction of new Hotels.    

The Chinese have a proverb that states a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.  So, it is true with our community.  This step of breaking ground for Three Rings on October 17 will lead us on a great journey into the future.

To the credit of our leaders in both our business community as well as our city and county governments, they have continued to help support what Three Rings will mean.  It has been several years between the announcement of such a major studio coming to Covington and now the construction begins.  It is real leadership that not only gives birth to the dreams of a brighter future but takes the steps to bring those dreams to life!  

B. Wiley Stephens is a retired United Methodist Minister and author who now resides in Covington. He is the father-in-law to Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston.