Sudbury's fledgling film studio, located in the former Barrydowne Arena, is looking to extend its lease for another three years to give them time to find a permanent home.
But the idea isn't sitting well with Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett, who wants to start work on a park and recreation centre that would link Rotary Park and a recreation centre he hopes will be created where the former arena used to be.
It's one of the items that will be discussed at a neighbourhood meeting tonight starting at 7 p.m. at Adanac Ski Hill. Kett said this week he's a big supporter of the film studio, and of developing a film industry in Northern Ontario — but not at Barrydowne Arena.
“They can't continue to take prime parkland,” Kett said Tuesday, after the finance committee meeting. “I thought I would be free this year to start planning it for next year. And I can't even start planning it yet because I'm not sure we're going to be able to do it.”
Northern Ontario Film Studio (NOFS) received a temporary rezoning last April to allow it to operate on land zoned for parks. The three-year lease was approved by city council and the studio officially opened in July 2012. Since then, several films have been fully or partially shot in Sudbury, bringing such stars as actor Ryan Reynolds and director Atom Egoyan to town.
David Anselmo, CEO and president of NOFS, said the Barrydowne location was — and is — a temporary home, but after just more than a year, they need more time to plan a permanent home.
“We have always had the intention of building a new purpose-built facility,” Anselmo said. “We're only looking at an extension of three years — which is still short term.”
When they opened their doors last year, he said they were confident Northern Ontario could sustain a film industry, and time has proven them correct.
“We've been involved in seven film projects, which brought about $15 million in economic impact to the City of Greater Sudbury,” Anselmo said. “We've created 500 contract jobs, so our first year has really reassured us.”
The lease on Barrydowne was only for three years, because it's only a temporary use rezoning, and the longest they could get was three years, Anselmo said. He said this extension would be the last, especially with a busy film schedule already planned for next year and a positive long-term outlook.
“We have great support from the city — from the staff, from council, and we have great support from the community,” he said. “We've talked to the neighbours, and they love the fact that we're there. We've taken an old building that was falling apart, put some money into it, cleaned it up, painted murals on the outside, fixed the whole interior, and spent quite a bit of money to enhance the building.”
They've spent about $100,000 refurbishing the rink, and even brought in security cameras to keep vandals away.
“The neighbours were concerned before that there was a lot of crime happening there because there was nobody occupying the space,” he said. “There was a lot of vandalism, a lot of graffiti, crime ...We have not had any incidents since we moved in.
“So the neighbours are happy. We have a lot of support in the neighbourhood.”
All well and good, said Kett, and he wishes them success. But, he says, allowing them to stay longer will hold up a major development for residents in the area.
“I have nothing but best wishes for the film industry,” he said. “But why would anyone want to put money into a leased facility like that? Especially knowing that they're going to make you leave? ... You're in the wrong place, that's all there is to it.”
When it first came to city council, Kett said they were told it would only be for three years.
“My hopes are if they get approval, it's the one and only time,” Kett said.
“There's no easy answer here. We want to be nice to them. They're a new industry in Sudbury. But when they first brought to council, it was made clear that it was going to be an incubator. And incubator means short term.”
Anselmo says they never promised they would be out in three years, but did commit to a short-term stay.
“But short term was never really defined.”
If lease extension is rejected, they will find another location in Northern Ontario, Anselmo said. Their preference is to stay in Sudbury, but would have to consider relocating if nothing suitable can be found.