Thursday, September 27, 2007

NM & Mesa del Sol Make the NY Times

There's a good overview of the Mesa del Sol development plan, focusing on how moviemaking is taking off, the right up in yesterday's New York Times:

Rick Scibelli Jr. for The New York Times
Albuquerque Studios, an anchor at the Mesa del Sol development, has invested $74 million in building six sound stages ranging up to 48,000 square feet, with two more planned. The development, called Mesa del Sol, will be a high-tech economic development center, and it is expected to become the site of 60,000 jobs, 38,000 homes and a town center.

It is being developed by a partnership of Forest City Enterprises, based in Cleveland, and Covington Capital Partners, based in Santa Monica, Calif. (Forest City Ratner, a subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises, is a partner in developing the new headquarters of The New York Times Company.)


The headliner of job creation at Mesa del Sol is Albuquerque Studios, one of the largest media production operations in the United States. Production companies have been lured to New Mexico by an extensive state-financed incentive program, which provides refunds on up to 25 percent of production expenditures subject to taxation, including labor.

The state also offers a zero-interest loan program for up to $15 million and further incentives to hire local people for advanced positions.

“It’s hard to break through the idea that only L.A. people can do this work,” said Lisa Strout, director of the New Mexico film office, a position that is appointed by the governor. But because of the incentive package, she said, New Mexico now has “the largest crew outside of the two coasts.”

Nick Smerigan, chief operating officer of Albuquerque Studios, said the film industry was already in the state before the company arrived. “We did our research and found that people were shooting in New Mexico and Albuquerque because of the incentive package, and because of the quick flight from L.A. and the year-round sunshine,” Mr. Smerigan said. “Our homework told us that there was no infrastructure to support all the shoots already going on.”

To date, Albuquerque Studios has invested $74 million in building six sound stages ranging from 18,000 to 48,000 square feet, with two more in the works. The first production, “In Plain Sight,” a television series that will be broadcast on the USA network, began shooting last month.

All of the completed studios are booked into January, said Mr. Smerigan, who estimated that at full capacity, 2,500 people would be employed by film and television productions and supporting companies.

Sony Pictures Imageworks is one prominent company that has been lured to Mesa del Sol. Mr. Smerigan will oversee the building of a 100,000-square-foot center for the company, which specializes in visual effects and animation and which has worked on the “Spider-Man” films. Initially, Imageworks will employ 100 people, but the center will be designed to accommodate up to 1,000 workers.

The emphasis on job creation at Mesa del Sol can be directly attributed to the development deal itself, which Forest City Covington entered into with the state and the University of New Mexico (which jointly controlled the land). For every phase of construction, there is a job-creation goal, which cannot be met simply by having companies relocate from within Albuquerque. If a goal is not met, tax incentives for the next phase of development do not take effect.

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