By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — The Slidell businessman who wants to build the biggest sound stage in the United States here in Slidell has upgraded his original plans and is seeking more investors for the project, now estimated to cost $25 million for the first phase.
Reed Ingram, who confirmed months ago he is pursuing the plan to build a sound stage on land in Camp Villere, said his research into the construction revealed the project will cost almost double his original projections.
Consequently, the first announcement of investing approximately $13 million for the sound stage has almost doubled to $25 million, since Ingram said he plans to build a sound stage that will be like no other in Louisiana.
“When we began to look into the project, we found there was a choice of building metal buildings or building a state-of-the-art sound stage that had the perfect construction, with top acoustics,” he said. “We plan to build a true sound stage, not a metal building, and that has made the cost go much higher than we originally anticipated.”
Ingram said he and other investors have put up close to $10 million, but he is still seeking other investors to come on board the project that experts believe will transform Slidell economically like nothing in the history of the city.
Those involved in the movie industry say the sound stage will have a huge “trickle down effect” for jobs and investment here, bringing what Ingram said is “100 categories of jobs” to the Slidell area.
Since first announced, Ingram and many other public officials, led by Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan, La. Sen. A.G. Crowe, Parish President Pat Brister and La. Rep. Greg Cromer, have sought approval for a public/private land deal on part of Camp Villere.
Crowe confirmed a month ago that he has received approval for that deal from the Army’s top official in Washington, D.C., and Ingram agreed the land situation appears to be settled, other than dealing with wetlands issues.
“The land is a done deal, but we do have wetlands to deal with in some areas there,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of wetlands, but there are some areas and that has to be mitigated.”
As the land situation was worked out, Ingram has spent the last few months flying back-and-forth to Los Angeles, meeting with movie company officials and Hollywood executives to research the best way to build the sound stage here.
Since 2003 when the Louisiana Legislature passed tax incentives for movie and TV companies to film in the state, St. Tammany has gotten a large share of that business, which topped the $1 billion mark in the state last year. However, the lack of a sound stage in St. Tammany Parish has limited how much business this area can get.
Currently there are five major sound stages in Louisiana, but Ingram wants to build one on 160 acres at Camp Villere that would make it double the size of the largest sound stage in the country, currently the 80-acre site at Warner Brothers.
He said he wants three main stages to begin with sizes of 12,000, 18,000 and 30,000 square feet. Additionally, they will build a production office, carpenter’s shed and other support facilities.
“If we do this, we plan to do it right and build the facilities with top materials, with insulated walls for acoustics and other top-quality features,” he said. “We could have done it for half the cost, but we decided that if we were going to do it, we didn’t want to just build some metal buildings.”
Besides seeking other investors to join in the project, Ingram said he is seeking other means to finance the sound stage that would help with the increased $25 million price tag.
Ingram has been a lifelong Slidell businessman, formerly having investments in construction and as the 18-year owner of
Slidell’s popular Bimini Bay. In recent years, he has been very successful through his entertainment-related business, Bev, Inc.
He is the vendor for many regional entertainment events in the New Orleans area, including such events as Voodoo Fest, the Jazz Festival, the Final Four, the Bayou Country Fest, the Big Dance and many more.
Ingram said his research showed that for every dollar a movie company brings to a local shoot, it multiplies “as much as seven or eight times as it trickles down to affect other things.”