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For Eastland Mall site, movie studio talk

(Updated at 6 p.m. July 18, 2012)

For the past two years, east Charlotte residents have waited to see what will happen to Eastland Mall.

Now, as the city ponders whether it should buy the property, some say there’s interest from the film industry to build sound stages at the site.

City Councilman John Autry, whose district includes Eastland Mall, said Wednesday that the city has heard from roughly four film production companies interested in the mall property. Autry wouldn’t provide company names, but he claimed that they have extensive experience working in the film industry.

Others say they, too, have heard there’s interest in the mall from companies that might open sound stages there.

“The two leading candidates for the site were film-production companies,” Terry Robertson, co-chairman of Charlotte East, a neighborhood group, said Wednesday. “I hear that one of the companies is a major player with financial backing.”

No official announcements from any film companies have been made. Beth Petty, director of the Charlotte Regional Film Commission, declined to say whether any deals were in the works.

“I just don’t have any comment on that,” she said. “There’s been people that have looked at our region in the past, but we don’t know. It’s way too preliminary. Hopefully someday we will have sound stages here. We’re working hard to make that happen. But we’re not sure where those sound stages would be located.”

According to news reports, the city is examining the possibility of buying the mall for $13 million in the hopes of finding a way to put the languishing site back into commerce.

Nothing has happened with the mall since Houston-based Boxer Property bought the property’s core retail space — but not the four anchor stores — in June 2010 for $2 million. In addition to the City Council, some residents of east Charlotte are growing restless as the mall goes into its third year of being shuttered.

Councilwoman Claire Fallon said she supports the idea of the city buying the mall, adding that she expects the council to approve the purchase Monday.

“I think it’s (buying the mall) wonderful,” she said. “I think whatever will go there will upgrade those neighborhoods.”

If the city buys the mall, the $13 million would come from a 2009 bond referendum, she said.

“We’re not playing around,” Autry said. “These are real entities that have expressed interest in the property. That’s the reason we seized this opportunity. We were approached by film companies that wanted to build sound stages.”

The Eastland Mall site, at about 90 acres, is certainly large enough for a massive sound stage or even multiple stages.

According to Petty, Charlotte doesn’t have a large sound stage.

“We have small ones,” she said, pointing to Reel Works Studios, which is at 817 Hamilton St.

Reel Works has three sound stages. The smallest, Petty said, is 5,000 square feet. The other two are 8,000 and 12,000 square feet.

“We’ve always wanted to have larger stages here. (That’s) something that I’ve been working on,” Petty said.

In Wilmington, there are multiple sound stages, she said, adding, “They’re very big.”

Robertson said he’s heard that the studios being talked about for the Eastland Mall site could be “bigger and better” than the facilities in Wilmington.

To be really competitive, Charlotte needs multiple, and much larger, sound stages, Petty said.

Autry said he’s heard that Charlotte would have landed “Iron Man 3,” the filming of which instead went to Wilmington, if the city would have more substantial sound stages.

But here are hurdles to opening sound stages in Charlotte, some say.

Petty said the challenge is “finding the right partners” and getting financing.

“Sound stages cost a lot of money,” she said.

Hollywood’s interest in Charlotte has grown in recent years. Major motion pictures have been shot in the city. They include “Shallow Hal” and “The Hunger Games.”

The city’s film industry is “doing extremely well,” Petty said. “It’s very busy.”

As an example of recent filming activity, she cited Cinemax’s “Banshee” and Showtime’s “Homeland,” both of which are being filmed in Charlotte.

“This has been a fantastic year for us,” she said.

Louise Woods, co-chairwoman of Charlotte East, said she has also heard talk of film studios being interested in the Eastland Mall site.

But, Woods said, sound stage companies aren’t the only ones interested in the mall site.

“There’s some real excitement developing along Central Avenue,” she said. “I’d like to see something that would be a catalyst for the area.”

Payton Guion and Deon Roberts contributed to this story.

One comment

  1. The city’s purchase of the Eastland property would be very advantageous for both the city and the eastside. The property would be back on the tax rolls as a viable commercial property and can spark economic development in the area.

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