Movie, television studio pitched for Algiers site

A Louisiana movie producer wants to turn a 17-acre former railroad yard in his native Algiers into a $63.5 million film and television production facility.

Scott Niemeyer, who has produced seven movies in Louisiana in the last dozen years, told the New Orleans Industrial Development Board on Tuesday that two years of due diligence have convinced him that Deep South Studios would fill a need for indoor production space and bring more dollars and jobs into the city.

“It was blatantly obvious to me there was a deficit, certainly, in the city of New Orleans,” he said.

Niemeyer, whose $500 million in film production includes “Pitch Perfect” and who is working on a sequel to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” said he filmed his last four movies in Baton Rouge.

“I want to come home,” he said.

Niemeyer has applied for the city’s PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, program. If accepted, he would have to pay only the current property tax of $25,000 per year on the site for the first 10 years, not the estimated $1.4 million in taxes the finished studio would otherwise have to pay. The theory is that without the tax break, the project would never happen and the city would continue to get only the same small tax payment for the property, without the jobs and economic activity the studio would generate.

The IDB and the Mayor’s Office will spend the next few months figuring out whether to accept Deep South Studios into the PILOT program and doing a cost-benefit analysis to determine what annual payment the city will require of him instead of the normal tax bill.

Deep South would have two three-story office buildings at the entrance; five production stages totaling just under 104,000 square feet; two 50,000-square-foot production offices; and three 16,500-square-foot buildings for storage, lighting and grip equipment and a mill and shop.

Niemeyer said that while Big Easy Studios and Second Line Studios already offer indoor production space locally, Deep South would be larger and offer better soundproofing and air handling.

“There is demand beyond capacity,” he said of Louisiana’s booming film production industry spurred by the state’s generous tax credit program over the last decade.

To find a facility of the size and scope he envisions, Niemeyer said, “you’d have to go as far west as Albuquerque (New Mexico) and as far east as Atlanta or North Carolina.”

Construction of the production studio and backlot would create 1,100 jobs, he said. Although it would take only a couple of dozen people to operate the studio, the movie and television productions it could accommodate could each have more than 100 people working on them.

He said the sequel to “Pitch Perfect,” now being shot in a former department store in Baton Rouge, has 250 people working on it on a daily basis.

Niemeyer said a second phase of the new studio on 15 acres across the street could include some post-production space and an educational component that could work with local colleges and universities to train students to work in the digital media and production industries.

The board seemed receptive to Niemeyer’s pitch, though it will be at least a couple of months before it makes its decision.

Niemeyer told the board he is poised to issue a $49.5 million debt offering to foreign investors through a federal program, adding after the meeting that he’s still looking for the right partner in the project.

Niemeyer said he has a purchase agreement on the property, which has been cleared and has undergone environmental studies. Design, engineering and construction documents are underway, and Niemeyer told the board he has put “seven figures” into the project so far.

If Deep South gets the approvals its needs, it could open by January 2016.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.