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Hillsborough County is seeking proposals for a potential film studio partner

The county could provide up to $2 million for capital needs on a reimbursement basis.
Director Dan Myrick, left, and Sabrina Miller, scripts supervisor, both look on a monitor during the filming of "Black Veil" in downtown Plant City in January 2020.
Director Dan Myrick, left, and Sabrina Miller, scripts supervisor, both look on a monitor during the filming of "Black Veil" in downtown Plant City in January 2020. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Jun. 16
Updated Jun. 16

TAMPA — A search is underway for a private sector partner to work with Hillsborough County in potentially bringing a large-scale production studio to the area.

The Hillsborough County Commission voted 5 to 2 on Wednesday to release a request for proposals.

All bids are expected to be received by late summer and a public ranking will be released by the fall.

According to the request, the county is willing to assist with “verifiable capital needs ... on a reimbursement basis.”

The county could provide up to $2 million from its BP Oil Spill Settlement funds, County Commissioner Ken Hagan said during Wednesday’s meeting.

A county-funded study on the need for a studio that was released earlier this year says it “should maintain around 40,000 square feet of workable shooting space with another 20,000 square feet of modular studio space to be segmented for smaller projects ... accommodate parking for between 60 and 100 vehicles” and be close enough to Tampa International Airport to provide “convenient access for travel, but not so close that the sound of the airport inhibits production.”

The studio should also have a film school or educational component that would provide a “pipeline” for students to get experience in production jobs that have an “average wage of $81,000,” Hagan said.

The study says that the lack of a large studio in Hillsborough where physical sets can be built contributes to a “resource leakage,” meaning movie and commercial productions shoot some scenes here but then move to a market that has the studio space they need. That costs the area between $2,000 and $39,000 per production day lost, depending on the project’s budget.

Still, Commissioner Mariella Smith voted against the move.

“I don’t see us getting our dollars worth out of jobs,” she said.

Smith also questioned why the county should support a production studio and not something else, such as a culinary school “that would support our struggling restaurants.”

“Government is not supposed to pick winners and losers” in business,” Smith said during the meeting.

And she believes the county already does enough for the production industry via its incentive program, which provides up to 10 percent back on what a production spends in Hillsborough. She said the county has provided $1.4 million in production incentives since 2016.

Commissioner Pat Kemp also voted no, in part because she thinks the county has enough private sector studios. During the meeting, she cited Diamond View Studios’ production studio named Vū inside the former University Mall, now Rithm at Uptown, and Black Horse Studio, which is being erected inside West Tampa’s Sicilian Club building.

After the meeting, Hillsborough film commissioner Tyler Martinolich told the Tampa Bay Times that he doesn’t think the intention is to provide the county with “another box to film in.”

Martinolich is focused on the community benefit. A public-private studio, as opposed to a fully private one, he said, “should be focused on workforce training, preferred rates for all Hillsborough county production companies, and the consideration to provide upgrades and potential studio space for continuing the mission of our public access organizations within the county.”

Semkhor Productions, which in 2010 established a similar studio venture with Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art and Design, is among those that has said they will file a proposal.

Briefcase Pictures — helmed by George C. Romero, the son of late George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead zombie series — is another.

Commissioner Harry Cohen voted yes, but tentatively.

“We can do this and then turn around and decide not to do this” if none of the proposals seem worth the county’s investment, Cohen said during the meeting. Approving the request for proposal “in no way implies I am going to support this down the road. This is not a done deal.”