Henry County willing to turn Tara Field into movie studio
By Ralph Ellis
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Movie madness has spread to the Southside.
The Henry County Commission has taken a big step in allowing a film production company to set up a studio at Tara Field, the airport near Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The commission voted 4-1 Tuesday night to support a proposed agreement between the county and Big 5 Enterprises of Stockbridge. Big 5 must come back within 60 days with the detailed agreement for the commission to study.
Billy Abbate, Big 5 managing partner, predicted the studio will boost the Southside economy. A movie produced by a major movie company could bring $100 million to the community, and the studio could generate 300 movie jobs and spin off another 2,000 support jobs.
Initially, six leased hangars at Tara Field in Hampton will be converted into movie sound stages, Abbate said, and Big 5 will build two 50,000-square-foot sound stages. The company also would build 51,000 square feet of airport infrastructure.
Movie production has taken off in Georgia, due in part to generous tax breaks provided by state government. Numerous movies have been filmed here, recently among them “The Blind Side.” However, local movie studios are in short supply.
Tyler Perry earlier started his own studio in south Atlanta where he has produced his “Madea” films and TV shows. Last month, the Atlanta City Council approved a 50-year lease for the Lakewood Fairgrounds to be used as film studios and sound stages by Screen Gems. Turner Studios in Atlanta and Riverwood Studios in Senoia have operated for years.
Big 5 has tried to win county commission approval for months. The commission liked the idea of an economic jolt but feared tax liability, said Bob White of the county development authority.
“Big 5 wanted a commitment that if revenues fell short to cover the debt service, the county would step in and make up the gap from taxing power,” White said.
The county commission, which was in the process of trimming the county budget, balked. After months of negotiations, the company offered more safeguards and the commission voted for approval. Only Johnny Basler voted no, saying the county could still be on the hook if the enterprise collapses.
“Securing it, if all else fails, with up to one mill of taxpayers’ money, that’s the problem I’ve had all along,” Basler said.
Monroe Roark, the commissioner for the Hampton area, said the agreement will minimize the county’s financial liability.
“I think the taxpayers have been protected,” Roark said.
The resolution approved on Tuesday night stated that the county development authority could issue up to $40 million in bonds. Big 5 promised to make an initial cash contribution of $500,000 to help the county set up a debt service reserve fund. Big 5 also must provide a $15 million letter of credit.
Big 5, which previously had concentrated on real estate development, leases several lots at Tara Field, which is owned by Clayton County though it is located in Henry County.
Abbate said Big 5 owned nearly 100 acres next to Tara Field and could expand if necessary. The studio project will be supervised by RoadTown Enterprises Limited of Los Angeles, a consulting company.
Having the airstrip next to the studio is a big selling point and the studio location close to Atlanta will make it easy to find skilled movie production workers, White said.