The head of the massive movie studio complex to be built in Effingham County told members of the Effingham Industrial Development Authority that progress continues to be made on the project.
Jake Shapiro, the CEO of FONU2 and Moon River Studios, said surveying for the entrance and design of the waterline extension are under way. Architect Bill Foley of Foley Design Associates has been working with engineers Hussey, Gay and Bell on the entrance road and laying out the first phase of construction, which includes the initial workshops, mills, storage buildings and sound stages.
“We’re very happy with how everything is going,” he said. “We have been keeping them very, very busy. We have a series of scientists and engineers out there on the property.”
The design of the waterline extension is expected to be ready to be submitted by the middle of April, and Shapiro added no flood study of the property is required. Shapiro also said he has approved having the spine road into the property surveyed up to the waterline termination point. The road location and design are expected to be ready for submittal to the IDA by May 15.
“One thing we pride ourselves on with the new company is the ability to operate at the top level with whomever we’re working with,” Shapiro said. “We have great architects, great engineers, a great (general contractor).”
Under the revised development schedule adopted last fall, the studio is pegged to have its first buildings — two soundstages and its office building — completed by December.
“All we care about is getting things done,” Shapiro said. “The proof will be in the pudding. We are working with great people, great professionals, and they are doing a great job. We remain highly confident we will hit all the targets in the development plan. We may even beat some of them. Word is getting around the new team is in place and without the issues that were holding us back before. There has been tremendous progress.”
Shapiro said the master plan revision — which eliminated such items as the glass bridge and glass leaf amphitheater, along with the planned housing for the project — the master plan approval and approvals of the development plan and development of regional impact are signs of the company’s commitment.
“These are all things that never got done in a year-and-a-half and over the past X number of months have completely gotten done,” he said, “along with having Bill Foley, Hussey, Gay and Bell and Choate working together to bring it to a physical reality.”
The company also is seeking to look at its lease payments to the IDA for the property. Shapiro said an investor has stepped forward and offered to pay $500,000 to the IDA. The first lease payments are not due until February 2016. Shapiro said the payment would be an “act of good faith to show how real this project is.”
“There is real investment coming to this project,” Shapiro added. “Capital has been coming into the company. As a sign of good faith, we offered to prepay almost a year’s worth of lease payments to the IDA. We have an investor right now who has made that offer, which we think shows further strength of how Wall Street is rallying behind our team.”
IDA attorney Ted Carellas suggested having Dan McRae, the attorney who helped negotiate the original memorandum of understanding, review the proposal. Shapiro said his only concern was that McRae was not a securities attorney and has requested a full study to learn about securities. Shapiro said the company would be happy to pay for Securities and Exchange Commission-approved attorneys to the counsel the IDA.
“I do not want to be on the hook for potentially tens of thousands of dollars for attorneys to re-learn law when there’s already some already specializing in it now,” he said.
Shapiro also noted the company has brought aboard Graham Bradstreet, who had been the Medient Studios chief financial officer, as CFO. Shapiro pointed out that Bradstreet has raised more than $1 billion in structured film finance, and those movies have made more than $3 billion at the box office.
“We’re excited to have Graham back with us,” Shapiro said, “and it’s all part of the trend to bring Hollywood to Effingham County.”
Alice Neuhauser, who has overseen the construction of a 22.5-acre studio that is home to James Cameron, also has joined the fold as the FONU2 chief operating officer.
“Alice is a rock star,” Shapiro said.
The company also hopes to announce the start of production for the Penny Marshall-filmed “Effa,” the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Jim Flynn, who made the final edits of “The Other Woman,” has been hired for the final cut of “Yellow,” and a national release of that film is expected later this year.
“We’re very busy,” Shapiro said.