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Studio not only item on IDAs menu
matt morris 2
Matt Morris, project manager for the Effingham Industrial Development Authority, speaks to the Rotary Club of Effingham County. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

When a company planning a massive project in the community changes its name, it takes a little getting used to.

Matt Morris, project manager for the Effingham Industrial Development Authority, updated the Rotary Club of Effingham County on the plans for a movie production studio to be built on 1,550 acres off Interstate 16 and Old River Road. He adjusted to the movie studio’s name change, approved by its board of directors the day before.

“Once we figure out exactly what we have to do as far as our obligations to Medient — or, I’m sorry, Moon River Studios — on the site, we will be adopting a revised capital improvement plan,” Morris said Thursday.

The film production company overhauled its leadership, including replacing its CEO and making changes on its board. Moon River is in the process of revising its master plan to present to the IDA for approval.

Along with the name change, Moon River Studios approved a 1-for-1,000 reverse stock split. That means someone who has 1,000 shares of stock will get one share of the new company.

“It’s basically a new project. We’ve had to start pretty much from square one,” Morris said. “It’s an exciting opportunity. It’s a big opportunity. We’re cautiously optimistic moving forward.”

While the planned studioplex has garnered most of the attention, Morris pointed out it’s far from all the IDA has in the works. “Probably a dozen different companies” have visited Effingham this year, he said.

In fact, he said the Governor Treutlen tract, an 83-acre site in the Effingham County Industrial Park, is one of two finalists for a project. The IDA should find out sometime in the next few weeks whether that company will come to Effingham.

“It would be a good asset for the community if we can land that project,” Morris said.

The Governor Treutlen site was going to be home to Xingfa, a Chinese chemical manufacturing company. However, the deal fell through earlier this year when an American company that was going to co-locate with Xingfa couldn’t complete its end of the pact.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Effingham has seen the last of Xingfa, though.

“They do want to come to the U.S. eventually,” Morris said. “They are going to start looking in Effingham when they come back, so we’d love to have another chance to let them kick the tires.”

Morris was asked about the Research Forest site, more than 2,500 industrially-zoned acres outside of Rincon. Research Forest has rail capabilities as well as multiple utilities on or adjacent to the site.

It’s missing just one thing.

“The biggest problem we have with Research Forest is it doesn’t have a road,” Morris said. “It has everything else, and that’s what it’s been touted as. It’s a site that is ready for development.”

The IDA currently does not have a vacant facility it can show to industrial prospects, according to Morris. Edwards Interiors recently bought the old Doncasters building as part of its expansion.

Being able to show off a facility always is an asset when a company makes a site visit to Effingham, Morris said. However, there are two sides to that coin.

“Having something you can show people, even if it’s not an ideal situation for them, it’s a way to get them in the community, show them the community,” he said. “But it’s also a good thing not to have those buildings, that turnover is taking place, that someone is buying up that unused real estate.”

While Morris covered several subjects, the majority of the talk, not surprisingly, was about Moon River Studios. He credited new CEO Jake Shapiro with streamlining the company and reducing its overhead.

Once Moon River completes its revised master plan, the IDA will vote on it. Then the next steps will be taken to plan for the project’s needs such as roads, water/sewer and utilities.

“We don’t want to get into a situation where (Moon River Studios) is wildly successful and we can’t handle the transportation infrastructure, for example, for their amphitheater,” Morris said.