Home Production studio Massive film production studio to be built on Edwards Aquifer hopes to bring Netflix and Disney filming to San Marcos

Massive film production studio to be built on Edwards Aquifer hopes to bring Netflix and Disney filming to San Marcos

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The City of San Marcos is offering tax breaks to the developer of an 820,000 square foot film production studio, to be built atop the critical Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.

The project has been a closely guarded secret for much of the past year. City officials cryptically called it “Dark Monday.” Last week it was revealed to be a $267 million film production facility in the La Cima residential development near West Centerpoint Road and West Wonder World Drive.

The studio will be built on 75 acres within La Cima. Plans call for 12 production stages, four workshops, a reception center and 250,000 square feet of office space. Construction is expected to begin in April 2023.

The production facility will try to attract some of the biggest movie studios in the country, like Netflix, Disney, Paramount and NBC Universal, said Zach Price, chief operating officer of Hill Country Studios.

The goal is to get “the high-end film industry” to complete projects there, and then after that they would target “some smaller productions, like commercial and music videos,” he said. .

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“That’s kind of how we designed this facility,” Price said.

Hill Country Studios is the name of the team that will be the developers and owner-operators of the production studio. It includes Texas State alumnus Blake Kotrla, who first proposed the idea of ​​building the facility in San Marcos more than two years ago. The team also includes big names like Bill Foley, an Atlanta-based architect who designed Pinewood Atlanta Studios in Georgia where many Marvel movies are made, as well as David Godfrey, an England-based film production consultant with credits. international.

Last week, the San Marcos City Council approved millions of dollars in property tax refunds for the production facility. But its location at the top of the charging area has sparked controversy.

The recharge area is a 1,250 square mile area, stretching from Bracketville west almost to Austin, where faults and fractures in the limestone formations allow large amounts of water to flow in the Edwards Aquifer. The aquifer is the main source of water for 2 million people.

The main concern with building on top of the aquifer is that it prevents water from entering and refilling the aquifer.

“I’ve never received so many emails on one topic since I’ve been involved in government here,” Councilman Mark Gleason said during a June 7 council meeting. “It shows that people care. They pay attention.

Still, city staff said the movie studio was the lesser of two evils, compared to another proposed project for La Cima: a strip mall and big-box development that would have created a more impermeable cover than the film studio, said Joe Pantalion. , Deputy City Manager.

“If you’re concerned about the environment and you’re really concerned about the Edwards Aquifer like we are,” the movie studio is a better choice, Pantalion told the council.

Price said Hill Country Studios has “taken every step possible” to ensure the project meets environmental standards.

“The design team continues to make improvements to ensure we meet and or exceed current regulations,” he said.

Any development built over an aquifer recharge area must obtain a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Price said Hill Country Studios has not begun the process of obtaining the permit from TCEQ, but is in the process of permitting with the city of San Marcos.

Last week, the board had to decide whether to enter into a Chapter 380 agreement with Hill Country Studios. Chapter 380 agreements, part of the Texas Local Government Code, allow municipalities to provide loans, grants, tax breaks and other incentives for projects that will create jobs and stimulate the economy.

The board voted 6-1 to complete the deal. Councilman Maxfield Baker cast the only “no” vote. The agreement will provide Hill Country LLC with property tax rebates over five years, provided the developer meets certain requirements for job creation, capital investment, and more.

For example, in 2025, the first year after project completion, San Marcos will refund 90% of the studio’s property taxes – up to $1.45 million – if the company employs at least 22 people by the end of the project. end of 2024.

In the second year, the city will grant an 80% discount if additional conditions are met. During the third year, the reimbursement drops to 60%; in the fourth year, 40% and in the fifth year, 20%.

Rebates will end after five years.

Baker pushed for more concrete agreements from the company in terms of community and environmental impact, such as a clause in the agreement that would require the company to hire a number of interns specifically from the state of Texas. , but he met with little support from his board colleagues.

He expressed concern about the mechanics of film production which sometimes involved chemicals or explosions.

“Is one of those things we have to worry about getting into our aquifer?” he said.

City leaders hailed the movie studio project as a way to diversify San Marcos’ economy, creating different types of jobs than the industrial and warehouse-type jobs that have dominated for the past three or four years. years.

Councilman Jude Prather said the studio jobs will be a “testimony to the creative culture we have here in San Marcos.”

The studio is expected to hire 22 full-time employees in San Marcos with an average salary of $100,000, as well as up to 1,400 contract workers for production projects. Hill Country LLC said it will work with the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District and Texas State University for student internships and learning opportunities.

Annie Blanks writes for the Express-News through Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. ReportforAmerica.org. [email protected]