Movie sound stage at Severance Town Center, Geauga Lake a possibility

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CLEVELAND - With more and more movies being filmed in Northeast Ohio, industry insiders are scouting out potential locations for Ohio's first movie sound stage, including Severance Town Center in Cleveland Heights and the site of the former Geauga Lake Amusement Park.

However, before that becomes a reality, Ohio needs to increase its Motion Picture Tax Credit to become more competitive with other states, according to Greater Cleveland Film Commission president Ivan Schwarz.

"It's about creating jobs and economic development," Schwarz said. He said the tax incentive, created in 2009, has lured productions including "Captain America: Winter Soldier" and "The Avengers," leading to a $400 million economic impact and 1,700 full-time equivalent jobs.

Ohio is now on the map for movie-making, but currently, productions need to leave the state to shoot some scenes at sound stages, taking money with them. Schwarz said that Captain America spent $40 million on production in Cleveland, of a $180 million total budget. Having a local sound stage would allow local production from start to finish.

"I want the additional $140 million spent here," he said. "They come here, and it's like dumping a truckload of cash in our community."

Before a sound stage is feasible, Schwarz said Ohio lawmakers must pass a bill introduced in the House last month to increase the annual incentive limit from $20 million to $75 million. It would also eliminate the current $5 million incentive cap per production.

Schwarz said Cleveland lost out to Georgia on production of the upcoming movie "Mother's Day," starring Jennifer Anniston and Julia Roberts because of the per movie cap, part of $1 billion in movie production he said the state lost to competitors in 2015.

"It was ours to lose," Schwarz said. "They weren't looking anywhere else."

He said increasing the tax incentive would draw more movie production to the Buckeye State and create demand for a state-of-the-art sound stage.

"If we do this, and we raise the incentive and we can create a full-time infrastructure, then people are going to move here and they're going to stay here," he said.

A developer would cover the $50 million to $75 million cost to build a sound stage facility, which would feature six, 20,000 square foot buildings, according to Schwarz, who said they already know a footprint. He said it would take a lot of acreage, and likely draw more than 2,000 people for work daily.

"These are purpose-built buildings that filmmakers from all over the world are used to and don't exist anywhere in Ohio or certainly in the Midwest," he said. "We want to be globally significant."

Schwarz said he is hopeful the incentive changes will pass the legislature in May, and a sound stage could be built within 18 months of that.

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