Dozens of firms seek Pinewood info

73 companies in related movie-TV fields interested in Fayette studio complex; project gets rezoning OK

With its rezoning approved by the Fayette County Commission Thursday night, an international movie and TV production studio is set to begin construction on the first phase of what will become the largest such facility in the metro Atlanta area, right in the middle of rural Fayette County and just across the road from Rivers Elementary School.

The Pinewood Studios project will position Fayette County as the future filmmaking capital of Georgia, and perhaps the entire Southeast, as some 73 related companies have already been in contact with the movie studio developers about coming to Fayette County as well.

Local developer Jim Pace, who has been working directly with Pinewood officials on the studio plans, told the County Commission Thursday that he hosted a company that is considering a potential relocation from Tennessee to Fayette County solely because of the Pinewood project.

“It would bring another 300 jobs or so here,” Pace said of the Tennessee firm.

Len Gough of Promaker Development told the commission that other companies will relocate to the county to be associated with the studios including lighting, camera, costuming and props services. Those new companies will be located in existing shopping center and office spaces, specifically mentioning the Togwatee Village and Waterfall developments in Fayetteville.

The Pinewood project will come to fruition on 288 acres of farmland at the intersection of Sandy Creek Road and Veterans Parkway. The first phase of the development will total 30 of the 288 acres with room for five soundstages, three buildings, two workshops and parking for under 300 automobiles along with extra overflow parking.

Future phases will be developed based on the need, which is projected to be strong as this is the first U.S. facility for Pinewood Studios.

A television pilot for the ABC network was filmed in Fayette County last week on the undeveloped studio site, with five days of work going into what would be cut down to about 15 minutes of footage, according to Matt Forshee, CEO and President of the Fayette County Development Authority.

“During that time they employed 400 people for this shoot, and spent about $200,000 for that 15 minutes’ worth of film time,” Forshee said. “… That’s a microcosm of what we’re talking about here but with a large project.”

Even after expenditures by the county associated with the Pinewood Studio project, the county is projected to gain an additional $2.7 million in sales and property taxes over the first phase of the studio development, according to Forshee.

The scale of the studio project is so large that an education component is necessary to help provide the workforce that Pinewood and associated filmmaking companies will need, officials have said.

As such the county stands to become the “epicenter for film education” in Georgia, Gough said, which will likely lead to more opportunities for Fayette County to grow.

“I think it’s worth noting that in Georgia, with native Georgians, we can only support a trained workforce that can support five to seven productions at any one time,” Gough said. “At that point, we bring in trained workers from Louisiana, North Carolina and California that supplant our Georgians from jobs that we could train and put them to work. This film education component will make a significant difference in education, thus resulting in a better quality of life for our county.”

Developers have been in talks with the Fayette County School System about purchasing the Rivers Elementary School building, which has gone largely unused since it opened several years ago.

That school has now been declared “surplus” by the Fayette County Board of Education, a legal step that sets the stage for its eventual sale.

The likelihood is that a Georgia college, perhaps the Savannah College of Art and Design, would run the film production school, but Clayton State University has also been mentioned as a contender to handle those duties.

Development of the studio site is expected to occur rather quickly as Pinewood hopes to be operational by January of next year and thus wants construction on the first phase to begin later this month.

The peaceful, serene nature of the 288-acre tract was a big selling point for Pinewood officials, as was the quick access to Hartsfield International Airport.

Pace credited the production of Lifetime Network’s “Drop Dead Diva,” which has taken place inside a modified hangar at Falcon Field Airport in Peachtree City, for providing the opportunity to lure Pinewood to Fayette County.

In fact, the early efforts from the Fayette contingent to lure Pinewood here were aimed at putting the production giant at Falcon Field.

As Pace explained, he was told that Pinewood would never locate near an airport.

“So I thought ‘Dang, morning wasted,’” Pace said. “Matt (Forshee) quickly said, ‘No problem, we have other sites in the county we’d like to show you.’ And so for that comment I credit Matt for bringing this opportunity into the county.”

It turned out that Len Gough and Rick Halbert of Promaker Development were the ones who later took the Pinewood officials by the site itself, Pace said.

Pace in December traveled to London pitching Fayette County as the ideal location for the project to Pinewood officials.

Pace noted that Pinewood has been in business for 80 years and as such is a stable force in the film industry.

“We feel like this is an extremely, extremely good project for the county,” Pace said. “It fits the county … and we are committed to maintaining the rural character of the county, to enhancing the county but also bringing jobs and prosperity into the county.”

Pace indicated that he hopes the project will help reverse the trend of declining student enrollment in Fayette County’s “outstanding” public schools.

“We hope we can help to get those numbers back up and hire some of those teachers back,” Pace said. “So we really believe this project will have an unprecedented economic impact on the county and, frankly, on the state.”

Pace noted that he often highlights to potential clients the fact that J.C. Booth Middle School in Peachtree City has won eight national Science Olympiad titles.

“It’s something that I’ve used for many years now, just to show the quality of life that we have here in the county,” Pace said, adding that he wants students “to know they are a part of attracting clients and industry for this particular project and the related businesses that come with it.”

Each of the five county commissioners supported the rezoning, and Commissioner Allen McCarty said based on his knowledge of the broadcast and television industry where he once worked, “I see this as one of the biggest booms this county has ever had. And I would like to thank you guys for choosing our county.”

Several citizens opposed the rezoning, largely based on fear that other similar developments would be located in the immediate area, while proponents of the rezoning argued that it is necessary to attract young people to live in Fayette County.

Commissioner Charles Oddo said he thinks the project will blend in to the point where people will drive by the site and not even notice the studios.

Commissioner Randy Ognio said he wants to make sure the county keeps an eye on the future development in the area.

“I don’t want to see it grow to be a city out there or a bunch of strip malls,” Ognio said. “I think this is good development for the county. I think they’ve done their due diligence on laying the thing out so it fits the area and I look forward to seeing what it will do for the county.”

Commission Chairman Steve Brown said the previous plan for the site called for more homes and more retail, which he did not prefer in the least.

Brown said the film production industry is almost recession proof, and he noted that the project ultimately will be annexed to become a part of the city of Fayetteville so sewer access can be provided to the site.

Commissioner David Barlow said he thinks the project “is going to ignite the economic base of Fayette County like something we have never foreseen.”