Facilities owners are generally positive about anticipated benefits from new stage complex

Local 476’s late Frank Hobbs had a saying: “When the stages are busy, we all prosper.” After a too-long Gobi Desert-like dry spell, the hope is that the proposed Central City Studios will boost local film prosperity.

There’s general agreement with IPA’s Mark Egmon that “the complex will be a phenomenal shot in the arm for the community,” in far-reaching transcendent terms.

As CFO director Rich Moskal put it, “A complex like this is a way for us to get Hollywood’s attention. It fuels interest and momentum in Chicago as a place where things are happening.” Adds Egmon, “It sends a signal to the Coast that Chicago is getting back in the game.”

Chicago was deeply “in the game” until 2000, when feature production went away and changed the game for several major players. Panavision couldn’t make it anymore and left town. Chicago Studio City called it quits last year after 20 years, and Bob Hudecek will close his RAH Producers Center July 25 after 25 years in business, although he will remain active in feature production.

Meanwhile, new players determined that they had a different vision, the proper financing package and city/ state support to make their studio plan work.

Despite some skepticism, the film industry is optimistic that the latest plan works, too.

“If Central City is successful in bringing shows to town, everyone will be helped,” opines Post Effects stage owner Mike Fayette. “But it’s not necessarily a situation of ?if you build them they will come.’ The question is, will bringing in five new stages bring in five new studios’ worth of production?”

Moskal says he is “very hopeful that the new studio will provide jobs and opportunities throughout all sectors of industry.” Center City projects it will provide more than 1,000 jobs, and 235 jobs in studio construction over 16 months.

“We can’t be a film center with the current limited amount of facilities,” states Marty Rhomberg, owner of Northern Lighting & Power. He takes a positive, global view of the foreseeable benefits viewing the new studios as “a way to project an international image. We need features and commercials to do that.”

Fayette agrees that it never hurts to have studio capacity. “But we’ve seen in past years that Chicago had plenty of capacity, like Chicago Studio City’s, but it wasn’t fully used.” What remains to be seen is how the owners plan to achieve their plan of 50% utilization rate their first year (2006) in business.

Everyone is in accord on the business boost new stages would give the city. Says Essanay’s Wayne Kubacki: “A sound stage facility of that size (183,000-sq. ft. on 11 acres) would be a welcome addition to the local industry. I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of the people behind making this kind of investment.”

Those people are Raleigh Enterprises of Santa Monica, which will own 80% of the complex when it completes its infusion of equity, attorney Stephen Allison’s Allison-Whitlock Inc., 15% ownership, and Don Jackson’s Central City Holdings Corp., 5% ownership. Ostensibly there are other equity shareholders who have not been revealed.

Financing sources are $25 million from Illinois Finance Authority bonds, $2.5 million from an Illinois First Grant, and $17.4 million in equity.

Hudecek is chagrined by the fact that “Raleigh, a non-Illinois corporation, was allowed to obtain Illinois bond dollars when local entrepreneurs were snubbed by city and state and denied the same opportunity over the years.”

Rhomberg hopes that Raleigh Enterprises, which most likely will equip Center City with inventory from its new Hollywood Rentals division, “won’t flood the market with cheap equipment that hurts small entrepreneurs like me,” he says.

“Am I cautiously worried?” he asks rhetorically. “Yes, but as long as it’s good for the community, then let it go into full swing.”

Facilities owners Rhomberg, Kubacki and Brad Barrett of AGLS believe they can withstand commercial competition from Central City based on their good reputations and strong working relationships with long- time clients. “My pride is in doing business with local companies,” said Rhomberg. “Keeping them in business is what we like to do best.”

Rhomberg wants city and state politicians to hear the message, being sent loud and clear, for the need for better, more meaningful incentives, and even, dare one wish, relief of the city’s 6% transactional tax.

“The politicians have got to realize this is a great industry with enormous monetary returns for the local economy” said Rhomberg. “Features are like a large Caribbean cruiser pulling into port and 4,000 people get off and open their wallets and spend money.”

As Frank Hobbs liked to say, “When the stages are busy, we all prosper.”

Readers, your feelings about the impact of Central City Studios? Send to Ruth@reelchicago.com.

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