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Lights! Camera! Eastland? City Council starts negotiations with movie studio developer

CHARLOTTE – The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to begin negotiations with a movie studio developer to redevelop Eastland Mall.EastlandWEB

Studio Charlotte Development, led by CEO Bert Hesse, has emerged as the city’s preliminary choice for the redevelopment, even if the choice was more by default.

So now the city begins up to six months of negotiations with Studio Charlotte, hashing out specifics such as the development plan, sources of financing, and the amount of public assistance required.

Up to this point, Hesse said he’d been hesitant to discuss such things with the city since he didn’t have any guarantee that his company would be chosen for the redevelopment of the defunct mall and attached 80-acre property. Now that the City Council voted to enter into the memorandum of understanding, Hesse said he’s ready to open his books in order to get the negotiations done sooner than six months.

At the City Council meeting Monday night, Hesse played an animated video showing off the full scope of the $300 million film studio, complete with sound stages, film school, restaurants, retail, artist lofts and a hotel.

Interim Mayor Patsy Kinsey, who said she couldn’t watch the full video from dizziness, evidently was impressed.

“I think it’s a good move to do the due diligence period,” she said, adding that she thinks this is a good step to take for the future of Eastland Mall.

District 5 Councilman John Autry, who represents Eastland’s district, made the motion to approve working exclusively with Studio Charlotte on the Eastland redevelopment, and the council members all agreed.

City Council in August 2012 approved paying $13.2 million for the mall that had been closed since 2010, with hopes of redeveloping what was once one the gem of Charlotte’s East Side.

Shortly after the city bought the mall, rumors of the film industry’s interest in the site began swirling. But the city took its time, issuing a Request for Expressions of Interest, a Request for Qualifications and finally a Request for Proposals.

Only two RFPs were returned in May; the second proposal came from Charlotte-based Ark Ventures and included an artificial ski slope, a wave pool and a skate park, along with a small film component. Ark Ventures two weeks ago withdrew its proposal.

The city on Monday wasn’t required to agree to enter into negotiations with Studio Charlotte and could have chosen to step back and wait, said Peter Zeiler, the city’s development and investment manager,

And just because the city and Studio Charlotte haven entered into this negotiation period doesn’t mean a deal must be reached, Zeiler said. It just limits to six months the negotiation timeline.

Hesse, however, said he thinks he’ll win the job and doesn’t expect it to take six months.

“We hope to have this thing wrapped up in a couple of months,” he said last week. “We would love to be breaking ground out there by the first of the year.”

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