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From the AJC.com:

The Atlanta City Council is expected to approve Monday a leasing agreement with EUE/Screen Gems, Ltd., a film and television production company which plans to transform a portion of Lakewood Fairgrounds into the area’s first state-of-the-art studio complex.

The deal, with backing from Mayor Kasim Reed, would be a boon to the city and state’s film industry as the new facility would likely attract attention from major production studios in Los Angeles and New York, local film production sources say. In turn, city officials hope the center will boost local economy with an estimated 1,000 new jobs that will stimulate the area’s food, hotel and rental services.

The proposed 50-year leasing agreement would cost EUE/Screen Gems $250,000 per year before jumping to $600,000 after a decade, according to city officials. EUE/Screen Gems plans to utilize about 30 acres of the fairgrounds, refurbish Lakewood’s historic Spanish Mission Revival exhibition halls and convert them into sound studios, as well as build a sound stage upwards of 40,000 square feet that could accommodate television, commercial, digital and film productions, according to the proposal.

The deal would require EUE/Screen Gems to invest about $6 million in the project. Roughly $1 million will go toward the exhibition hall renovation, said John Lavelle, director of the City of Atlanta’s real estate portfolio.

While the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office declined comment, pending the council’s vote, local film insiders say transforming Lakewood into a large-scale production hub will further Atlanta’s reputation as a major destination for the industry. While the region has drawn studios for its breadth of locations and industry workers, it hasn’t been able to offer a major facility that meets the technical needs of filmmakers.

“Over the years — and it’s not an exaggeration — we’ve lost dozens of movies because we didn’t have sound stages,” said Norm Bielowicz, a location scout in Atlanta and former department head for the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office. “The truth of it is, especially with larger movies, they need stages. Even though technology is allowing us to do more and more without location pieces, you’ve gotta build some things.”

The EUE/Screen Gems deal provides just that.

Charles Judson, communications director for the Atlanta Film Festival, said the idea of converting Lakewood into a studio has been tossed around since the early 1980s, after Burt Reynolds filmed “Smokey and the Bandit” in the area.

“It was supposed to happen years ago. In the heyday of high-production location, even in the ’80s, we were consistently in the top five [of destinations] and that was before incentives,” Judson said. “There’s always the question of what would have happened had they been able to capitalize on that in the ’80s.”

City officials say the move won’t just benefit the film industry here, but also the Lakewood community, a seemingly forgotten area in southeast Atlanta.

Read the full story here.

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