Green light: TV-movie studio gets county OK

In a decision likely to change the fabric of Fayette County’s future, the county commission Thursday night approved a rezoning that will allow a television and movie studio to be built on a large tract of farmland in the rural center of the county. Pinewood Studios plans to make a home on a 288-acre site at the intersection of Sandy Creek Road and Veterans Parkway (also formerly known as the West Fayetteville Bypass).

The project is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the county as developers are hoping to include an education component, likely in conjunction with a Georgia college, that will teach the skills necessary to work in TV and movie production. While an often overlooked part of the proposal, this education component will be key to providing jobs for area residents because of the current and future demand in the TV and movie production arena.

Construction will begin as early as next month as Pinewood hopes to be up and running with its first phase by January 2014. The developers who are in charge of building the campus have pledged to maintain the rural character of the area.

The buildings will be set several football fields away from the roads and there will be parking spaces for 283 cars along with overflow parking. Also on the plans is a multi-use path similar to Peachtree City’s golf cart paths that would link up with a future network that will lead to Piedmont Fayette Hospital and beyond. The developers have promised to build a tunnel underneath Sandy Creek Road to extend the path northward.

The studio parcel, which is directly across from Rivers Elementary School, was actually used the past week to film a pilot for a TV show on the ABC network as the production used the rural, undeveloped character of the site with about 300 people on site to shoot what will be edited down to about 20 minutes of airtime.

As for luring Pinewood Studios here, Fayette County Development Authority CEO Matt Forshee said much of the credit goes to the successful production of the Drop Dead Diva television show inside a former aircraft hangar at Falcon Field Airport (also known as Atlanta Regional Airport).

Forshee deserves a big attaboy for improvisation after Pinewood officials soured on the concept of locating at a “noisy” airport. Forshee took the Pinewood representatives up in the air for a helicopter ride over the serene, pastoral acreage along Sandy Creek Road, and the studio officials were hooked.

Commission Chairman Steve Brown noted that Pinewood Studios is a solid company with an 80-year track record of hosting big-time movie blockbusters.

In terms of the first phase of the project, a conservative estimate shows a net revenue to the county of $2.8 million over a five-year period, Forshee said. In the subsequent nine years, the county’s take jumps to $12.4 million. Those figures only include property and sales tax revenue, but not income and wages of the hundreds who will be employed both directly and indirectly by the studio.

Len Gough of Promaker Development said his company has already received 73 inquiries from companies who want to come to Fayette County solely because of the Pinewood announcement.

While some companies will be located on Pinewood’s site, others will be coming to area shopping centers including Togwatee Village and the new Waterfall development in Fayetteville, Gough said.

While a movie studio was not on the county’s land use plans for the area, several commissioners noted the need to approve a project that will not only strive to maintain the rural character of Fayette County but also provide a number of jobs in a down economy.

Gough noted that the state of Georgia will pay to retrain workers for the TV and movie industry. The studio is expected to lure companies that specialize in camera equipment, lighting, costumes, props, catering and more. That fact alone means the movie studio development stands to lower the unemployment rate in the area, officials said.

Though some residents near the proposed studio opposed the project on fears that other similar developments will follow in the area, other residents supported the studio because it will attract young people to live in Fayette County.

The first phase of the project will affect 30 acres on the 288-acre site, with five soundstages, three additional buildings and two workshops.