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Hesse takes studio proposal to York County

Studio South presented its plans to build a $350 million movie studio development to the York County Council on Monday night, as part of its effort in seeking a $1 million hospitality tax grant.

The project would include nine film sound stages totaling 250,000 square feet with an IMAX theater and other features; a training and education facility for the film industry and other arts; and a spa.

The Catawba Indian Nation owns the 124 acres that it would be built on. Studio South wants to open the first sound stages in the middle of 2017.

“This is a game-changer for the Catawba Indian Nation,” Bert Hesse, the CEO of Studio South, said during the meeting.

Studio South expects a decision on the grant by the end of the year.

The property is attractive to the film industry because it is close to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the city; there is access to film crews nearby; and there are a variety of settings that movie makers can take advantage of in the area, Hesse said. The area also appeals to the industry because filmmakers usually work at a location for three or more months and there is a lot to do in the area, he said.

“We have been working on our deal with the Catawba Nation for a little over a year and their property fits the criteria we need,” Hesse said Tuesday.

Hesse looked to South Carolina for a location after his plans to build on the city of Charlotte-owned former Eastland Mall site failed in 2014. The city rejected a request from Hesse to extend his exclusive negotiation rights for the site by another five months after the city’s Economic Development Committee said they had not received enough specific information about the plans, and recommended not continuing the exclusive talks. The city staff also determined that the property may be too complex for a single developer.

An advantage of building on Native American land is that gives Studio South access to more than 200 federal programs to help fund the project, Hesse said. He declined to disclose how much money the company has raised for the project, but he said the goal is to raise all of the funds by spring. Studio South has also hired Morgan Stanley to help obtain private funds for the project.

Companies that film on Native American land are also eligible for incentives from the federal government, Hesse said.

Studio South wants to break ground sometime in 2016.  It would take up to eight years to complete the project, and the studios would be built first. The land and buildings would be owned by the Catawba Indians and Studio South would have a 20- to 30-year deal to manage the property.

The other facilities planned for the site would attract more than the movie industry.

The spa and retreat Studio South wants to build would focus on Native American therapies. Guests would be able to be pampered with steam baths, mud baths, and other treatments in up to 30,000 square feet and up to 10 guest rooms on 5 acres.

The project would also have a 20-acre retail component and one of Studio South’s goals is to attract a restaurant that is unique and not part of a chain to that part of the development, Hesse said.

The arts and education facility would be on 20 acres. Hesse described it as a retreat for artists in fields such as film production, writing and painting to learn from people in their fields.

About 40 acres of the site would be open space.

Catawba Indian Nation officials could not be reached for comment.

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