Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

It seems you can’t aim a camera in New York or New Jersey these days without seeing a studio space that’s brand new, under construction or in the works.

Did you miss the Oct. 24 groundbreaking ceremony for the $350 million Sunset Pier 94 Studios, Manhattan’s first purpose-built studio campus with six soundstages totaling 85,000 square feet, opening in midtown in late 2025? No worries — there’s another on Nov. 15 for East End Studios’ $280 million Sunnyside Campus in Queens, with four stages totaling 91,250 square feet, set to be open in early 2025.

“Having an opportunity to build in Manhattan is like finding Bigfoot — a very unique situation,” says Sunset Studios head of global studios and production services Jeff Stotland. “We were fortunate to be able to partner up with Vornado [Realty Trust] because they had the ground lease on the piers.” The other backers are Hudson Pacific Properties, Blackstone and the New York City Economic Development Corp.

If you’re more impatient for a new facility, the $60 million Great Point Studios Buffalo, with three stages totaling 30,000 square feet, opens Nov. 18 upstate. And just last week, Fuse Technical Group and All Mobile Video unveiled an in-camera VFX / XR LED volume stage for cutting-edge visual effects at Manhattan’s Chelsea Television Studios.

But wait, there’s more! The under-the-radar Borden Studios, with four soundstages at around 56,000 square feet on the top floor of a mixed-use Queens building, opens in mid-2024. Just a 15-minute drive away, Robert De Niro’s $600 million Wildflower Studios will unveil 11 vertically built soundstages totaling 198,000 square feet in Queens next summer. “Everything that’s needed is self-contained in each unit, so there are 11 independent carpentry shops, office spaces, sound areas and hair and makeup areas,” says managing partner Adam Gordon.

Atlanta-based Electric Owl Studios plans to open a facility with six stages in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., in 2025. The CIM Group says it’s in the design/development phase for Panorama Brooklyn Studios, a 90,000 square-foot complex they expect to finish by late 2024. And Kaufman Astoria Studios CEO Hal Rosenbluth, who opened two new stages in August 2020, has designs for more that he hopes to develop with his studio’s new owners Hackman Capital Partners next year.

Why the big boom? It’s partly because a big increase in production spurred by streamers led facilities like Silvercup Studios to operate at capacity before the pandemic, prompting many to build new stages or expand. “As a real estate developer, I know that retail [space] was in the toilet, office buildings are suffering and industrial [spaces] softened a lot,” says Steiner Studios owner Doug Steiner. “The only thing that was good nationally during the pandemic was production, so we attracted capital.” And with New York State tax credits returning to 30% and the annual cap increasing to $700 million for qualified productions in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s latest budget through 2034, incentives have never been greater.

Robert Halmi’s Great Point Studios, which launched Lionsgate Studios Yonkers just north of New York City in January 2022, is laying the foundation for Lionsgate Newark Studios, a $200 million facility with five stages that will open by March 2025. “Lionsgate is our anchor tenant and has the entire facility,” Halmi says. “Because they’re signing leases of 10 years or longer with a studio, they get a tax credit bigger than others who shoot in New Jersey.”

And Netflix, which opened a massive facility in Brooklyn in July 2021, has about three years to complete a due diligence and local approvals process before committing $848 million for a facility on the former Fort Monmouth Army base in Oceanport, N.J.

Two new studios have opened in Kearny, NJ., in the past two years. Palisade Stages offers 23,000 square feet of studio space, while 10 Basin Studios boasts a 36,000 square feet soundstage and is looking to partner with a virtual production expert to house a new high-tech operation there. For now, the largest purpose-built New Jersey production facility is Cinelease Studios — Caven Point, which has run three soundstages totaling 67,400 square feet in Jersey City since August 2021. And it could get bigger: Cinelease and its partners are working with the local community to complete a six-soundstage facility adjacent to the current one that would double its existing footprint.

All of this new competition is part of what’s spurring New York City studios to expand their footprint. Steiner Studios is adding two stages to its enormous 30-stage Brooklyn Navy Yard campus, set to open in less than two years. And owner Steiner is finalizing permits for what he calls “Steiner Sequel,” a $600 million facility in Brooklyn. He expects construction to be completed by early 2027.

Brooklyn’s Cine Magic East River Studios, which opened two stages in late 2021, bought property for its Cine Magic LIC Studios in Queens and expects to start building three new stages there by spring 2025.
Newer studios are boasting cutting-edge technology like LED stages and volume (a.k.a. LED volume) stages. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, the editors of the new “Visual Effects Society Handbook of Virtual Production” say an LED stage only has one or more LED walls with no camera tracking abilities, whereas a volume stage has both. The latter, used for shows like “The Mandalorian,” projects sets and/or vistas onto LED walls so the camera can move around actors for a 3D effect, creating an immersive experience.

Queens-based Carstage, which opened two years ago, has a 10,000-square-foot LED stage used mostly for creating images in moving car windows, but occasionally uses camera tracking and has begun doing non-automotive shoots. XR New York, based just north of New York City near Nyack, has a volume stage boasting a 45-foot curved LED wall. And the newly opened Chelsea Television Studios space has a 22 X 24 foot stage and a curved 35 X 15 foot LED wall that can expand into a volume stage.

As the industry awaits the end of SAG-AFTRA’s strike and the restart of many productions, there are a few clouds on the horizon. Much of this boom was fueled by unprecedented demand for content more than four years ago. But with streamers like Netflix scaling back, fewer orders for adult scripted series and today’s uncertain economic future, it’s unclear how many planned stages will open for business. Final financing on one northern New Jersey studio hasn’t closed, despite its projected start of construction in early 2024. Another ambitious studio planned for southern New Jersey also hasn’t been fully financed. And when a few planned studios like Panorama were asked if funding for their facilities was completed, reps did not reply to requests for comment.

And, as Kaufman Astoria’s Rosenbluth puts it, “If interest rates go from [around] 7% to 10% next year, there’s not going to be a lot of construction going on for anybody.”

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