By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — A major hurdle to build a sound stage on 160-acres of land at Camp Villere in Slidell has been passed, La. Sen. A.G. Crowe confirmed this week.
Crowe was approached months ago by Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan and local businessman Reed Ingram, seeking his assistance in securing a public/private land deal at Camp Villere for the sound stage.
Crowe set up meetings with state officials, getting the support of Louisiana Economic Development Director Stephen Moray and Louisiana National Guard Adjunct Gen. Glenn Curtis, who was a key figure in getting approval for the land deal.
After securing state support, the final approval for the public/private partnership went to the U.S. Department of the Army, leading to a letter Crowe recently received from Washington, D.C., saying there was “no problem with this partnership.”
The sound stage for Slidell has been called a “jobs creator that could be the biggest thing for the city since the space industry came here in the 60s.”
With the growth of the movie industry in Louisiana, St. Tammany Parish has become a prime site for Hollywood to film in the state. But the lack of a sound stage in the parish has limited the potential for even more jobs.
Ingram was approached over a year ago by Drennan, hoping the successful Slidell businessman, already having ties to the entertainment industry, would be interested in backing a sound stage here.
Ingram and Drennan visited Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge in Oct., 2010, and since that visit, Ingram got behind the idea to bring the sound stage to eastern St. Tammany. Ingram’s initial plans are to build the biggest sound stage in the United States, double the size of the Warner Brothers Studio on 80-acres of land. He expects an initial investment of $12 million to $15 million.
“This is an opportunity for Slidell like nothing before, and can transform our community to something that brings a lot of jobs and money here. It is my chance to invest in something that gives back to the city I grew up in,” Ingram said.
Getting the land approval was first and foremost on the list and Crowe has apparently been the key figure in accomplishing that goal.
Crowe said he “wholeheartedly supported this project from the start when I met with Mayor Drennan and Mr. Ingram. This has the potential to be a huge jobs creator for eastern St. Tammany.”
The state senator initially set up a meeting with Moray and other key state officials, and secured the support for the project.
“When I met with Mr. Moray and the Adjunct General, our concept was well received,” Crowe said. “They saw no reason not to do this.”
Crowe said he researched similar public/private partnerships in the state and found several others on National Guard land across Louisiana.
A month later the information was sent to the Department of the Army in Washington, D.C., and Crowe said he received a letter in the past two weeks that confirmed there was “no problem” with proceeding with the public/private partnership.
“This is maybe the most significant part of getting the sound stage built,” Crowe said. “If we can’t make this deal for the land, the whole project would have been in question.”
Crowe said the current deal would be for somewhere close to a 100 year lease, at a minimal charge to Ingram and his investors of something like $1 a year.
Ingram said in a past interview that a favorable land deal will enable him to offer the sound stage at much lower prices to Hollywood studios, thereby bringing far more business and jobs here to the Slidell area.
Ingram said he has had several films produced at his home in the area, and said he was surprised at the money that was spent.
“When they filmed at my house, they hired people to do the landscape, lifeguards to work the scene, rented boats—you name it, and they spent money to make the shoot perfect,” he said. “Imagine if we have hundreds of film companies coming here every year—shooting at our sound stage and area locations—they would spend money in so many ways.”
The sound stage will provide an on-location site for inside filming, and Hollywood companies will not only pay to build sets—meaning electricians, plumbers, carpenters and more—but they will pay to furnish the sets and buy all the incidentals to make a movie scene complete.
“That doesn’t even include all the people they will hire for all the jobs needed,” Ingram explained. “It’s incredible when you really understand how much money this brings to a region when you have a great, local sound stage.”
Coincidentally, this is the 10-year anniversary of the year Crowe and former State Rep. Steve Scalise were among the lead authors to pass Louisiana’s tax incentives for the movie industry.
Since the Legislature passed tax incentives for the movie and TV industry in 2002, the state has seen a steady increase in film work here, capping at over $1 billion in 2011 when over 150 productions were filmed in the state.
Ingram is now focusing his efforts on the financial plan to build the first sound stage, which can happen within 18 months of the land deal being signed, he projected.