Evoking one of cinema’s most renowned closing lines of a movie, Manu Kumaran ushered in a partnership between his company and the Effingham Industrial Development Authority.
Kumaran and representatives from Medient Studios and the IDA entered into a memorandum of understanding Tuesday morning, and Kumaran laid out a sweeping and bold vision for the IDA’s Interstate 16 northern tract, plans that include a video game production facility, movie studios, hotels, botanical gardens and more.
“Hopefully, it’s the start of a beautiful friendship,” said Kumaran, the chairman and CEO of Medient Studios, echoing the final line of the classic movie “Casablanca.”
Once completed, the studio complex will be the largest movie production facility in the world outside of Asia.
“We are delighted that we have the opportunity to build our ‘Disneyland meets Googleplex’ mega-campus in Effingham County,” said Kumaran, chairman and CEO of Medient Studios, “and grateful to the Effingham IDA in reaching this agreement in such a professional and efficient manner. We are confident that this exciting project will become a prototype for environmentally-sustainable construction, management and living.”
Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding, Medient Studios will make a $90 million investment in Effingham County and is expected to have at least 1,000 employees within five years.
But the workforce level, with subsidiary development and other related jobs, could be three to five times that, according to officials.
“The signing of this memorandum of understanding with Medient Studios is a very large step in changing Effingham County from a bedroom community into a job center for our region,” said IDA Chairman Dennis Webb. “After four months of work, it is a pleasure to take this action today, announcing and approving an agreement with Medient Studios that will create a large number of jobs in Effingham County.”
Kumaran said the movie studio itself will employ about 400 people, and the video gaming center will employ another 200 people. By the time phase I of the project is completed, he expects a workforce of 1,200 on hand.
Most of the property will be public access, and there are plans for a botanical garden, a golf course and amphitheater that will seat at least 15,000 people. There also will be hotels, shopping and restaurants planned for the area of the tract nearest Old River Road.
Work on the site could be several months away, as rezoning requests and master plans are completed and submitted for approval.
“This is not the end of the process,” said Dan McRae, the bond attorney for the IDA. “This is the end of the beginning of the process.”
Under the terms of the MOU, the IDA will receive payments totaling $10 million over time. The IDA will enter a 20-year lease and provide $1.25 million for site development.
“What we are formalizing today will be generating activity in Effingham for years to come,” McRae said.
The entire project also is planned to environmentally sustainable, Kumaran said. It will generate its own power from solar panels and none of the vehicles on the property will have combustion engines.
Kumaran also said what the architects have in mind for the buildings, including the amphitheater, will draw interest.
“Even in the design, its uniqueness will be a tourist attraction, augmenting Savannah’s growing reputation as a tourism destination,” he said, “not just in the United States but around the world.”
IDA officials, including CEO John Henry and project manager Ryan Moore, have been working on the project since last summer, and Medient chose Effingham over other states and other countries.
“John was a bulldog,” Kumaran said of Henry’s efforts to bring in his studios.
Aside from the hundreds of jobs for the studio, video gaming and DVD production facilities, hundreds more are anticipated to be generated through construction on the site and through the hotels and retail sectors.
“At the end of today, a lot of people who have never heard of Effingham County will know where we are and what we are doing,” Webb said.