Monday, January 21, 2008

Update from Austin: Villa Muse Studio Complex seeks flexibilitty, funds

From the Austin American Statesman:
Proposed studio complex's developers want to build outside Austin's controls
Developers say city must release jurisdiction over Villa Muse, or project planned for southeastern Travis County will go elsewhere.


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saying they are concerned about Austin's taxes and the length of the city's development approval process, the backers of a proposed film, television, gaming and sound studio in southeastern Travis County are asking the city to release their 1,100-acre property from Austin's future growth zone.

If that happened, Austin would give up all regulatory control over the development of the Villa Muse Studios and the adjacent residential and office development and surrender the right to collect property and sales tax in a large swath of its desired development zone near the new Texas 130 toll road.

City Council members, who would have to approve any concessions, have said they have reservations about what the city would have to give up to get the project off the ground.

Villa Muse's development team says the city has plenty to gain from releasing the flood-prone land and signing a nonannexation agreement that would probably last decades because the land isn't likely to be developed by anyone else.

"The vast majority of the jobs created and the economic benefits are going to be outside the boundaries of Villa Muse," said Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, vice president of strategic development for the project. "Austin is going to benefit more than anybody from what we're doing."

In Austin's five-mile growth boundary outside the city limits, also known as the extraterritorial jurisdiction, the Villa Muse property is subject to the regulatory authority of both Austin and Travis County.

The developers say that Austin's approval and permitting process would take too long to get the studio up and running by the end of 2009, which they say they need to do because of competition in the industry.

They want to build under only Travis County's less-rigorous approval process, which it also wants to customize and shorten for the project. In Texas, cities have far more regulatory authority than counties.

Approval at Travis County generally takes six to nine months for projects of more than 1,000 acres, mainly because developers only need approval for the subdivision plats — which divide property into lots and lay out where the roads will go — while projects that require city approval must also specify lot sizes, street designs, land use and water quality controls. Commercial projects also require additional permits in the city.

Approval time for the city process is typically 12 to 18 months, said real estate attorney David Armbrust.

Though saying they support the project, several City Council members said they are reluctant to agree to the request.

"We have a stated policy for releasing folks from the ETJ, and this doesn't meet that criteria," Council Member Mike Martinez said. "They need to come to the table with an offer that is mutually beneficial. Simply providing jobs and a studio isn't (enough)."

Villa Muse would be anchored by a 200-acre studio that would include production and post-production facilities surrounded by more than 1 million square feet of office space and high-end housing for as many as 9,000 people.

The project's backers say the studio would help Austin compete in the entertainment industry by attracting a larger pool of creative talent and accommodating larger productions than those using the city's current facilities. It would also offer studios, producers and others everything they need to create and complete a new project in one place, which is a growing trend.

The developer's consultant, the Perryman Group, estimates that the studio could add anywhere from 40,000 to nearly 110,000 jobs in Central Texas, which currently has about 760,000 jobs, and generate between $6.5 billion and $20.2 billion in local spending each year. Competition among major studios is escalating.

In recent years, major studios have been built around the world in places such as South Africa, Australia, Canada and Spain. Late last year, the well-established Pinewood Studios Group in London announced that it would double in size within two years and incorporate a large residential component, much like Villa Muse.

The $74 million Albuquerque Studios opened in New Mexico last year with six soundstages on 28 acres. It's set to expand this year.

About 80 percent of the Villa Muse site is in a floodplain. The developers plan to spend $8.6 million to reclaim the land, using dirt from 800 acres next to the property that is owned by sand and gravel company Travis Aggregates Ltd.

The developers estimate that it will take $300 million to build roads, parks, hike-and-bike trails, a wastewater treatment plant and water lines as well as planned community centers, an auditorium and schools. They project it will take another $450 million to get the studio up and running.

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Read the Full Here: Proposed studio complex's developers want to build outside Austin's controls

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