A studio planning on building a massive complex in Effingham County hopes to have its first building up and ready by the end of the year.
Medient Studios CEO Jake Shapiro laid out the company’s new master concept Tuesday morning to members of the Effingham Industrial Development Authority’s property committee and said they want to get the first 40,000 square foot office building completed first and have two 20,000 square foot soundstages ready by the end of the first quarter of 2015.
The initial investment for those first buildings is expected to be $15 million-$20 million.
“We are extremely confident we will get this plan financed and constructed,” Shapiro said. “It was very strategic to lay out that goal out, to put the pressure on the various entities involved to make this happen as quickly as we can. We will be getting film production this year. So we have absolute needs. I think it is very important to have a goal that is tight but reachable. This way it keeps the pressure to make it happen.”
But the company’s timeline may be hard to keep — IDA and county officials cautioned that the project still must go through the development of regional impact, or DRI, process. That could take anywhere from several weeks to several months to work its way through the channels and then back to the IDA and the studio.
“We can’t start the formal planning review until the DRI is done,” interim county administrator Toss Allen said.
Added county planning administrator George Shaw: “The big first step has to be the DRI. We can’t approve any project of this size without getting that approved and it does take a couple of months.”
Included in the revised concept is community space that will be available to the public, when the studio isn’t using it for shooting movies. The studio plans to incorporate soccer and baseball fields, tennis courts and an amphitheater with seating for 20,000.
“We think it represents a dramatic step forward,” Shapiro said of the reworked plan, “in terms of professionalism, in terms of logic and in terms of our ongoing, nonstop conversations with the community to really make this property something Effingham County can be proud of and can very much be a partner in.”
The studio can begin filming projects without the soundstages, he said, since those will be shot on location.
“The reason why we’re here is to make movies,” Shapiro said. “We’re not trying to build Rome in a day. With the team we have assembled, we are a very, very focused, very professional group. We can actually deliver our promises, which is very important to us.”
IDA officials, though, are still awaiting projections and estimates to complete a master plan and a supplemental agreement.
“It’s starting to gel,” said IDA Chairman Dennis Webb. “The concept has been refined to a project that looks good and makes sense.”
The studio will need to provide projections on traffic and water and sewer needs for the entire project.
The revised concept includes areas for soundstages and back lots, along with community recreation space, retail and hotels.
IDA members will meet Tuesday to go over the new plans. The IDA ordinarily meets on the third Thursday of the month, and their August meeting had been scratched because it coincided with the community retreat. But the IDA is pushing to meet Tuesday evening.
Webb also worried that the supplemental agreement between the IDA and Medient may take more time to accomplish, along with the other documents and reviews yet to be completed.
“It’s going to take a real concentrated effort to get this going at your speed,” he said.
IDA CEO John Henry also pointed out that the engineering on the full buildout of the project has to be done, to include roads and water and sewer lines.
Shapiro also said the company is working with its investment bankers to get the stock listed on over-the-counter exchanges.
“It is absolutely a short-term goal,” he said. “We’re confident we will be listed on the OTC markets in the near future.”
The company reported issuing stock recently as part of its pledge to honor contracts that were put in place before Shapiro took over as CEO, he added.
The IDA and Medient teams are expected to conduct weekly meetings or conference calls to assess and update progress and what needs to be accomplished.
“We know time flies quickly,” Shapiro said. “When it comes to construction, what can happen will happen. But I think with the team we’ve got assembled, from Bill Foley on down, we’re very, very focused, a very professional group that is ready to demonstrate to the county our ability to deliver on promises, which is very, very important to us.
“I’m very excited about it.”