Doreen Hemlock Sun Sentinel
South Florida’s film industry received a boost Monday with the opening of a new movie and TV production studio in downtown Miami built at cost topping $14.5 million.
Viacom, the entertainment group whose properties include cable TV channels Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and MTV, has contracted to use the state-of-the-art facility, which was developed through a public-private partnership.
The government’s Miami Omni Community Redevelopment Agency funded the project, one of the largest film studios in South Florida. Private company EUE/Screen Gems Studios, which also runs studios in Atlanta and Wilmington, N.C., operates the site and will pay the city agency $100,000 per year plus 11 percent of gross revenue during its 10-year lease, executives said.
Viacom plans to hire about two dozen people full time for the new Miami facility plus hundreds more part time for its projects such as TV series and concerts filmed in the studio plus segments filmed off site, said Pierluigi Gazzolo, president of Viacom International Media Networks for the Americas.
Some of the talent and crew for those productions likely will come from Broward and Palm Beach counties, and filming outside the studio is expected north of Miami-Dade, said Chris Cooney, chief operating officer of EUE/Screen Gem Studios, who helped lure Viacom to the new studio.
“We’ve worked very closely with Viacom over the years, so this is a great opportunity for us and great news for all South Florida’s film industry,” said Noelle Stevenson, vice president of film, music, entertainment and creative industries for Broward County. “We’re thrilled about it.”
Even so, more is needed to develop filming in South Florida and statewide, said Leah Sokolowsky, a location manager based in Broward and past president of industry group Film Florida.
“It’s a good sign that Miami is behind this,” Sokolowsky said. But South Florida still could use more film studio space, she said. “And we need some kind of support from Tallahassee.”
Incentives approved by the Legislature to lure film projects to Florida have been used up, and efforts to renew funding have faltered. A film starring Ben Affleck set in Tampa’s Ybor City now will be filmed in Georgia on a site built to look like Ybor City because of better incentives there, Sokolowsky said.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado also called for greater state support during the opening of his city’s new film studio at 50 NW 14th St., west of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
“Hopefully, the Legislature will approve more credits, so we can be the Hollywood of the South,” Regalado, a former radio broadcaster, told an audience of more than 150 people at the studio.
Miami officials opted to develop the studio after studies showed demand for space, and years of talk about real-estate titan Donald Trump building a studio in the area “never happened,” said City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, board chair of the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency.
“We decided: Why wait? Why not actually do the construction of a world-class film studio?” Sarnoff said. Officials pointed to spinoffs from film that include high-paying jobs, a chance to retain local creative talent and public exposure that draws tourists and business investment.
Formerly a dilapidated building, the new film facility features two fully operational film sound stages of 15,000 square feet each, a 50-foot roof, 40-foot grid height and about 15,000 square feet of offices, editing suites and support rooms. The Omni agency bought the building and land in 2011.
Viacom now employs about 150 people in the Miami area and already films some productions at smaller studios in South Florida. With its new dedicated studio space, the company plans to move some production north from Latin America and also expand its productions for U.S. audiences in Miami.
“We plan to stay here,” said Viacom’s Gazzolo, “and grow our investment here.”