Fort Lauderdale Approves $164M Film Studio With $1-Per-Year Land Lease

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The Fort Lauderdale City Commission has approved a plan for the creation of a $164 million film studio on a 61-acre plot at 1400 NW 31st Avenue.

Known as the Fort Lauderdale Studio Initiative, the project is a joint venture between Michael Ullian, a developer who specializes in redeveloping brownfield sites, and Christopher Ursitti, a partner at Los Angeles Center Studios. The two did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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The commission, including Mayor Dean Trantalis, voted unanimously Thursday in favor of the proposal.

Director and producer D.J. Viola, who is also a partner in the project, spoke of using the school function of the facility to recruit from the local talent pool and build skills for film production.

“If we aren’t educating this area on how they can magnify the industry down here, then anyone we’ve invited to come here and make a movie is not coming back,” Viola said during the Thursday commission meeting. “Building the buildings is not enough. It’s filling it with the gear and filling it with the crew.”

Construction of a 350,000-square-foot facility will kick off in 2024 with completion scheduled for 2025. Work will begin after environmental remediations are completed at the site, currently known to the Environmental Protection Agency as the Wingate Road Municipal Incinerator Dump Superfund site.

But the partners developing the site are leasing it from the city for next to nothing: a 50-year lease to 2072 at $1 per year with the option to extend for another 50 years. 

Single-acre plots of land within 15 miles from the project have sold for between $600,000 and $700,000 in the last four years, according to a financial and real estate market report submitted to the City of Fort Lauderdale by Deloitte.

“We have assembled a world-class architectural, engineering and construction team which has already commenced the developmental approval process with the various governmental agencies,” John Milledge, a spokesman for the project, said in a statement. “As to operations following construction, due to existing non-disclosure agreements that are in effect we are not currently able to share any additional details beyond that which has been submitted to the City of Fort Lauderdale in our approved proposal.”

Deloitte and the developers expect 70 percent of the $164 million project to be funded by loans and 30 percent by equity. They laid out a plan for a $114 million construction loan to build soundstages, offices, sets, a film school and a commissary at a 6 percent interest rate.

It’s unclear if there will be a particular production company operating out of the facility.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.