A coalition of investors and the City of Hamilton have signed a memorandum of understanding that would see the city-owned Barton-Tiffany lands developed into an international hub for film, television, and digital media production.
The Hamilton Studio District would encompass what the prospective developers envision as a 15-acre “live-work-play development” for the creative sector set to include a film and TV production campus featuring 500,000 sq. feet of soundstage and studio facilities; post-production, VFX, music and game development studios; training facilities; two residential towers, office and retail space.
Leading the development charge is Aeon Studio Group – a group of investors led by Mike Bruce, co-owner of Toronto’s Studio 550 where Big Brother Canada is filmed and a location manager by trade; Robbie David, a producer who has been filming in Hamilton for a decade; Mark Sakamoto, former chair of the Ontario Media Development Corporation; and entrepreneur Jeff Anders, founder of Toronto creative agency The Mark, joined by lawyers Phil Lefko and Stephany Mandin.
Jeff Anders told Broadcast Dialogue that the seed for the idea started with partner Robbie David who was noticing that many productions were having a hard time finding a place to set up shop with studios across Toronto sold out.
“Robbie had been filming in Hamilton for years and had seen the city transforming in terms of the arts and culture workforce, but also an attitude change among crew and the union leadership, and even by productions themselves, who all of a sudden were signing up enthusiastically for on-location filming in Hamilton,” said Anders.
“Productions like The Shape of Water, The Handmaid’s Tale, Stephen King’s IT, and Designated Survivor, had all begun to film there…and it was clear to Robbie that for a number of reasons Hamilton was the perfect place for a production to set up shop. But despite that fact, there was almost no studio space, or at least no significantly sized studio space in the Hamilton area,” explained Anders.
Anders says from there, discussions evolved with NABET and other unions, the Directors Guild of Canada, Interactive Ontario, and local institutions like Mohawk College and McMaster University, among other groups, who were all enthusiastic about the idea.
“Every single organization basically said ‘yes, the province needs it, the city needs it, the industry needs it, we’re on board.’ This is not just a few entrepreneurial people from film and TV trying to open a building. This is a coalition of all the stakeholder organizations saying ‘hey, let’s do this’ and make it happen on a very large scale,” said Anders.
Capacity for more studio facilities
Despite the ongoing expansion of Pinewood Studios Toronto and the recent announcement that Netflix is establishing a Toronto production hub, Anders believes there is enough production to support the Hamilton Studios development.
“Ontario has a one per cent market share of the global content production industry and given how close we are to the U.S., given our tax credits, given our favourable currency and given the crew talent and onscreen talent, and how that talent pool has matured over the last decade, Ontario is positioned to be as globally competitive as any other jurisdiction. We believe that one per cent should be higher,” said Anders. “When we look at the characteristics of the current stock of studio space, we see a lot of space that’s too small, ceiling heights too low, pillars throughout, so not clear span, very little that is purpose-built, that is wired for a data backbone and how production is done in 2020. We think a purpose-built facility in Hamilton, 45 minutes away from downtown Toronto, will be very desirable to productions that are coming in from anywhere, frankly, and looking for a higher quality product.”
Long process ahead
A desirable piece of real estate, bordered by the new West Harbour Go Train station near the bay in Central Hamilton, the Barton-Tiffany lands will require extensive environmental assessment before the sale of the land can even proceed, according to Glen Norton, director of Hamilton Economic Development.
The site, once home to the original Stelco plant, has a long history of industrial use and according to Norton holds a lot of unknowns as one of the oldest industrial areas in the city, going back to coal tar production and kerosene.
He declined to put an estimate on the site’s value, but projects that once complete, the multi-million dollar development could result in the creation of 1,000 to 2,000 jobs.
“The economic spin-off we haven’t put a dollar value on. It’s a little too early,” said Norton.
According to the Hamilton Music & Film Office, the city was one of the top filming locations in Ontario in 2018, hosting over 130 productions, including Netflix series’ The Umbrella Academy, Murdoch Mysteries, Good Witch, and feature film Shazam!, among other projects.
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