Connecticut Studios – Only in the Movies

October 21, 2013

The story of Connecticut Studios’ development in South Windsor features a plot that seems to come straight out of the movies. In 2008 the idea to bring a motion picture studio to Connecticut was proposed and approved. Five years later, we still see no signs of construction.

So, where are the lights, cameras, and action?

Due to a number of state regulations, rules, and required steps the project has run into severe delays, and a series of events reminiscent of the 1993 film Groundhog Day started to unfold. The whole situation seems unreal, and raises questions about how the state can best support the developing movie industry here in Connecticut.

Because of multiple regulation obstacles, construction on Connecticut Studios was postponed repeatedly over the past year. South Windsor’s town council found themselves in the same position over and over again, voting to delay the construction deadline; a total of seven delays so far. If the town council did not officially move the deadline, the 23 acres of land donated to Connecticut Studios by the town would have reverted back to the town due to a contractual clause, and the project would end. The latest official deadline for construction is December 3, 2013 – 14 months later than the original deadline.

Now that Connecticut Studios has a new construction deadline, there are still questions concerning the studio’s ability to complete a long list of required tasks outlined by the state. This list includes: closing on $7 million in bridge financing, buying additional property adjacent to the land, putting money into escrow for estimated costs to pay for permits, paying off a $1.5 million lien on the 23 acres, creating a preserve habitat for endangered sparrows in the area, and planning for tiger beetle relocation, to name a few of the stipulations.

Earlier this month, an important milestone was reached in getting Connecticut Studios closer to construction. The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority approved a power purchase agreement between studio developers and Connecticut Light & Power. Connecticut Studios will build a $30 million fuel cell electric generation facility, CTS Energy LLC, and will sell power back to CL&P under a 20-year contract. This project will create revenue for the town no matter how successful the actual movie studio is. The plan is great for the town, but unfortunately the process to negotiate and approve this plan is partially responsible for the project delay; and every day construction is delayed is a day of lost revenue for the studio.

Connecticut has worked hard over the past few years to make our state a welcoming place for the movie and film production business through film tax credits, which is one of the reasons why Connecticut Studios’ developers chose our state in 2008. However, despite the focus on film tax credits, it seems that the process to start a business is still hindered by an excess of regulations.

Earlier this year, the film tax credit program was put on hold after criticism over the generosity of the tax credit arose; not surprising when estimates showed that $74 million in projected film tax credits would be distributed in FY2012/2013 by the state. Connecticut Studio almost lost their tax credits, but was saved by an exception to the ban in their favor.

Despite keeping their tax credit, the proposed site for Connecticut Studios at the intersection of I-291 and Route 5 in South Windsor remains empty. It is hard to envision 495,000 square feet of new facilities including a hotel, restaurants, offices, retail space, storage areas and sound stages. The hurdles Connecticut Studios now faces are not related to tax credits; they are related to the many regulations that need to be addressed before the studio can even start to think about generating business. Unfortunately, construction still seems far away, and it does not look like we will be saying, “That’s a wrap,” any time soon.