Eastland Mall will be demolished to make room for a movie studio – maybe. The city council is moving forward, tentatively, with a proposal from Studio Charlotte, but a lot still needs to be worked out.
Initially, the city's economic development staff recommended council members spend the next six months talking through the details of Studio Charlotte's plan for the Eastland Mall site.
But Studio Charlotte CEO Bert Hesse wanted more.
"I have spent almost $1 million dating the City of Charlotte," says Hesse. "Are you telling me we're gonna get engaged with the potential to get married? Or do you still want six more months of holding hands? I'm not interested in that."
Hesse would come to regret that metaphor as city council members joked about "going steady," "getting a pre-nup" and "getting in bed."
The council's economic development committee settled on an exclusive six-month relationship – technically a memorandum of understanding – with Studio Charlotte. The full council will vote on the arrangement in two weeks. Important details need to be worked out, says Pat Mumford, head of the city's Neighborhood and Business Services.
"Will it work without city participation? We've heard 'No,'" said Mumford. "But we don't know what the city participation will be."
The city paid $13 million to buy Eastland Mall last year. Studio Charlotte's bid documents suggest the city hand over the property for free and indicate additional public money may be necessary to make the movie studio with eight sound stages a reality.
Until Wednesday evening, a second proposal was in the running. But ARK Ventures rescinded its plan for a massive sports complex, including a skate park, wave pool and artificial ski slope. ARK President Noah Lazes still believes the plan is viable, but says the decision was becoming too political and the city council shouldn't rush into it.
"We don't think there's a quick fix there," says Lazes. "We think it's a 'lifer project' - you've gotta get involved and work this project for many, many, many years. So there's no reason we couldn't step back for a second here and say let's let the city and city staff vet this other idea and see if it's something that's even real."
Lazes doubts the movie studio plan is financially feasible without the city stepping in to help subsidize its operations. The largest sound stage currently in Charlotte is at Silver Hammer Studios, which the ARK Group owns.
"If we thought it were a viable enough business to expand, we'd be the first ones stepping up trying to expand it," says Lazes. "But unfortunately there's just not more business to be had."
Hesse counters that Studio Charlotte is planning for future film production needs as the industry grows in Charlotte. But, he adds, unless state lawmakers extend lucrative film tax incentives that expire at the end of next year, his whole vision? "It's dead.