Second Line Stages, one of Louisiana’s largest television and film studio operators, is tripling the size of its space in the Lower Garden District as film production booms again in New Orleans.
The sound stage operator and its Culver City, Calif.-based backers, Hackman Capital Partners, began construction this month on a space that will add two blocks to the company’s existing premises on Richard Street. , a few blocks from the Market Street Power Station.
The new space will triple Second Line’s operating space in the neighborhood, where it will have seven production studios and a workshop and support warehouse for rent to film production companies.
The expansion reflects the scramble of traditional production companies, like Paramount and NBC Universal, as well as emerging streaming services like Amazon and Apple, to produce original content. There are currently 26 movies or series in production in Louisiana, 22 of which are being made in New Orleans, according to Louisiana Economic Development’s film division.
Movies in production in the city include “Heart of a Lion,” a biopic about boxer George Foreman, and “Renfield,” a vampire-themed offering starring Nicholas Cage.
Second Line’s expansion also reflects a big shift in recent years, in which financial operators like Hackman and Blackstone Group have taken over studios around the world, often buying them from big production players and then signing long-term rental contracts with these companies.
According to industry analysts, film production companies are free to focus on production and can be more flexible about where they shoot.
Demand ‘off the charts’
Trey Burvant, co-founder and vice president of studio operations at Second Line, said the local film ecosystem is currently booming as producers try to make up for lost ground during the pandemic.
“In New Orleans, the demand for content creation right now is out of this world,” Burvant said Thursday, speaking on the sidelines of a real estate conference at the University of New Orleans.
Second Line Stages was founded a year after Hurricane Katrina by Burvant and Susan Brennan to take advantage of the renewed interest in Louisiana’s film industry. Their operation followed cycles of booms and busts in the local industry, which were largely driven by sentiment toward generous and controversial state tax breaks for films.
Companies like Second Line do not directly receive the film incentive tax credits. But their business depends on demand from production companies, which were quick to move elsewhere when the subsidies disappeared.
A previous $32 million expansion project by Second Line was completed in 2015, just before former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal ended the tax incentive program, resulting in a strong decline in state film production in subsequent years.
A debate on film subsidies
Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Economic Development’s entertainment and digital media unit, said the industry has become more stable in recent years since production shifted to making episodic series, which can result in multi-year studio leases and longer. term employment opportunities. LED estimates that there are currently approximately 10,000 Louisianans employed directly in the film and television industry. That’s still down from the high of 13,000 before the tax program cut.
“Investments like you see from the Hackman Group and these people happen naturally because they see long-term opportunities here,” Stelly said.
The debate over film subsidies continues even as policymakers are changing it to tackle abuse. The state only gets about 30 cents on the dollar in terms of direct taxpayer subsidy return, but LED estimates the true return in 2020 was more than $2.55 for every dollar spent when jobs were created and the money spent on things like catering, period clothing and furniture, and all the other elements of filmmaking are taken into account.
The New Orleans expansion will put Second Line on a par with some of Hackman Capital’s largest studio operations in terms of square footage. Second Line is one of 18 facilities Hackman now owns in California, New York, Toronto, UK and Ireland.
The company’s acquisition spree over the past few years included the historic Culver City studios, for which it signed a long-term lease with Amazon. Just before the December 2019 pandemic, Hackman bought CBS Television City’s 25-acre campus for $750 million.
The purchase price for the two blocks in the Lower Garden District was not disclosed, but together the acreage was valued at around $6 million by the Orleans Parish assessor.
The warehouse that adjoins Religious Street was previously owned by a company controlled by Barry Kern and used as float space for his Mardi Gras World operations. This has now been converted into machine shops and other facilities that will support production companies renting the stages, said Nick Moldaner, chief operating officer of construction company Impetus (formerly Palmisano), the company that designs and build the project.
The four new stages being built next door cost around $25 million. This project involved hoisting 56-foot-tall precast concrete slabs into place, each weighing 80,000 pounds. A large crane on site is setting up custom 160ft steel beams that make up the roof of the new stage.
Modlaner said the demanding schedule to bring the studio space online was possible because the concrete slabs were fabricated in Mississippi and the steel beams in Alabama, allowing them to overcome the bottlenecks of the supply chain that have been blocking construction projects for months.
“Half of the structure will be in place within the next two weeks and fully erected before the summer,” Moldaner said. “Then we’ll work to outfit it with all of the scheduling requirements for the film stages to put it into production six months after we get the go-ahead. That’s a very accelerated timeline.”
The story has been corrected to show the purchase price of CBS Television Campus.