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Real Estate Pros Report Strong Interest from TV, Film Makers Looking to Establish Studios in New Jersey

Talks on Possible Locations Heat Up With Return of Tax Incentives
July 10, 2018
A 175,000-square-foot industrial building, vacant for about 20 years, at 1 Disposal Rd. in the North Arlington Meadowlands, is one of several locations being considered as potential film or television production sites.

In 2015 industrial real estate broker Andrew Moss was working with three companies looking to rent space in North Jersey for TV and film production facilities. One was ready to sign a lease. But those potential deals tanked when then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on a program that gave tax incentives to projects that shot in the Garden State.

Now flash forward to today, and movie production is a regional star again. Last week, the state’s new governor, Phil Murphy, signed a bill restoring the film and TV tax incentive program, offering up to $85 million a year in financial incentives. Even before Murphy put his signature on the legislation Moss, director of leasing and acquisition with Teterboro, NJ-based Forsgate Industrial Partners, said he was once again being contacted by firms looking to film in the state.

In fact, the day before Murphy took action on the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, Moss said he received two inquiries from scouts for TV shows who may have heard the incentives were being reinstated.

"I’m showing one of the scouts a bunch of buildings," he said. "I can also tell you that there’s a few other studios and one television network that’s already reached out to us. That’s a lot in a matter of two weeks basically."

Real estate brokers like Moss, film experts in New Jersey and some state officials are predicting that the new legislation will boost the state’s economy by creating jobs as well as even more demand for industrial space -- a commercial real estate sector that’s already tight in the Garden State -- as sites for TV and movie studios. A number of productions, like NBC’s "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," left its studio in North Bergen, NJ, after Christie suspended the tax credits.

With the tax credits restored, talks between TV and movie production companies and Garden State landlords and brokers are heating up, with interest being expressed about sites in Jersey City, NJ, Newark and North Arlington, NJ, among other places, several said.

"There are at least 10 motion picture productions and 15 television series -- ranging from television networks and cable/satellite program services to internet distributors -- that are looking for locations in New Jersey or are in the planning stages to greenlight projects," Steven Gorelick, executive director of the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission, said in a prepared statement.

Tom Bernard, a member of the film commission and co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, was just as bullish as Gorelick about the incentives.

"The impact is that all the major studios are talking about coming and planting a flag in the ground for their businesses," Bernard said. "I know there are studios that are looking to shoot in Newark... I know someone that’s talking to people in Jersey City... about four warehouses that they want to convert to studios. And that’s just the beginning of the business."

New Jersey is billing itself as a less expensive and logistically easier -- read as having less traffic and more parking -- locale to film TV programs and movies than New York City, yet is still close to the Big Apple.

Moss said one of the TV scouts that contacted him said his show was looking to relocate its studio to New Jersey because its lead actress didn’t want to have to commute to an alternative location in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.

Also, there’s an added opportunity for the Garden State because there is an undersupply of studio space across the Hudson River, according to Bernard.

The new law, which was effective immediately, "enhances" the corporate business tax and gross income tax credits for qualified production costs incurred while filming in New Jersey and revises and expands such tax credit eligibility requirements, according to a press release from Murphy's office.

The legislation permits the state to award up to $75 million a year in tax incentives to movie and TV production companies, and up to $10 million annually to digital media companies. The base tax credit is 30 percent on qualified costs, rising to 35 percent for firms that shoot in Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer or Salem counties.

New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she had spoken to firms that said they would open production facilities in New Jersey if the tax incentives came back. The expense of leasing space will count toward the spending requirements necessary to qualify for the state tax incentives, according to Weinberg.

"That in and of itself will create demand for studio space," she said. "And I think there are people out there who already have that kind of warehouse space to rent."

Kearny Point, the mixed-use redevelopment of a former shipyard in Kearny, NJ, is already a location for TV commercials to be shot, said Nick Shears, director of leasing and marketing. And TV and film producers have been checking it out, according to Shears.

"In the past six months, representatives from local and national motion picture and television studios have toured Kearny Point with members of (developer) Hugo Neu Corp.'s leadership team as a potential location for building new studios within the 130-acre property in advance of the legislation," Shears said in an email. "With the legislation signed into effect, Kearny Point stands to benefit from the bill as it offers over 1 million square feet of existing commercial space and is zoned for up to 3 million square feet of additional commercial space - much of which could accommodate motion picture and television studio use."

At least one TV production company is eyeing a 175,000-square-foot industrial building, vacant for about 20 years, at 1 Disposal Rd. in the North Arlington Meadowlands, according to Bob Ceberio, a redevelopment consultant for the borough. The property is owned by moving-company maven and real estate developer Moishe Mana, whose company is based in Jersey City.

Ceberio declined to identify what TV production company was considering the site, but described it as one with "a long-running show that was in North Bergen and left when the tax credits left."

The building has 40-to-50-foot ceilings and is located in a fairly isolated area, with no sounds to interfere with filming, Ceberio said. In addition, North Arlington officials "are very willing to host" a TV studio in their town, and willing to help such a business to secure tax incentives from the state legislature in Trenton, according to Ceberio.

He said that he has seen firsthand the ripple effect it has on a local economy when a TV show films in a town. Ceberio was executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission when HBO’s mob drama "The Sopranos" filmed in towns such as Kearny, the location where scenes at Satriale’s Pork Shop were shot. There were direct and indirect benefits, such as money spent for things such as catering and wardrobe, according to Ceberio.

"You're injecting a ton of money into a local economy," he said. "It's not just one element."

Moss pointed to the success of Georgia’s tax incentives for drawing film and TV producers as a model for New Jersey. During the 10 years of the Peach State’s incentives, Georgia has jumped to the No. 3 spot in terms of filmmaking, topped only by California and New York, and seeing more production facilities open. Hit shows such as "The Walking Dead" are shot in Georgia, and actor-filmmaker Tyler Perry has a deal to bring a huge studio to the Fort McPherson site in Atlanta.

Some New Jersey officials and executives, such as Tom Meyers, executive director of the Fort Lee Film Commission, said it’s fitting that studios return to the state because it was the birthplace of the U.S. film industry. In the early 1900s, pioneer movie studios shot serials on the rocky Palisades cliffs on the Hudson in Fort Lee, NJ, which is how the term "cliffhanger" originated, according to the film commission.

"With the invention of the world’s first movie camera by our very own Thomas Edison, New Jersey is known as the birthplace of the film industry, yet we’ve seen a decline in film and television productions over the last several years," Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, a co-sponsor of the tax incentive bill, said in a statement. "This is a strategic investment that will not only make New Jersey a leader in this industry once more, but it aims to create long-term jobs throughout our state and will stimulate our economy."

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