Empty Rivers school may house Pinewood Studios offices


    The Pinewood movie studio complex coming to rural central Fayette County may take more advantage of its backers’ pending purchase of nearby Rivers Elementary School than initially planned.

    The school at first was pitched as a home to a school that would specialize in training new employees for the film production industry, as many more will be needed in Georgia to upscale the job force necessary for Pinewood, which will be the largest such operation in the state. There is no definitive word as to which state university will be running that program, according to Matt Forshee, who help land the project in his role as chief executive officer of the Fayette County Development Authority.

    The Savannah College of Art and Design, which has a film school in Atlanta as well, was reportedly interested in a partnership with Pinewood, and reportedly Clayton State University and its burgeoning film program are also in the mix.

    Pinewood Atlanta officials are looking at using the school for its studio offices instead of building the separate offices adjacent to its five sound stages, Forshee said. Those new offices would be built in the future and the saved money could be used on other parts of the 288-acre campus off Sandy Creek Road and Veterans Parkway, a road more commonly known as the West Fayetteville Bypass, Forshee explained.

    “I understand it to be probably the first year or two almost as a mixed-use activity with some educational pieces and also some studio offices,” Forshee said.

    Pinewood plans to be up and running with productions underway in January of 2014, so construction is already underway with gravel poured and the concrete pad phase expected soon. The development is projected to lead to about 2,000 jobs both directly and indirectly as other movie-related companies will pop up in the area to support the filming.

    The Pinewood Atlanta site is immediately across the road from Rivers Elementary School, which the Fayette County School Board has voted to sell to Pinewood officials for $5.17 million. That deal has not yet been finalized, but a closing is anticipated in August as both sides are in the due diligence phase, Forshee said.

    The school has been severely under-utilized as the school board never placed it in operation as a full-fledged elementary school, but instead housed smaller programs there as the envisioned population for the school vanished with the nationwide housing crisis that began in 2008. Those smaller programs will be relocated to other space in the school system, officials have said.

    Pinewood Atlanta is a joint venture of Pinewood Studios parent company Pinewood Shepperton and local investment group River’s Rock, LLC. River’s Rock is slated to fund the land and studio construction while Pinewood will provide the joint venture with sales and marketing services in exchange for holding shares in the company.

    Although it will require a rezoning from the county and ultimately annexation into the city of Fayetteville, the Pinewood site will be nestled well off Sandy Creek Road and Veteran’s Parkway. Company officials have said the buildings will be built some distance from the road and additional landscaping will be planted along the roads to screen it from view.