Scott Grasso begins the bidding wars as ‘Burn Notice’ auctions off the props from its old studio space in the now-vacant Coconut Grove Convention Center. EMILY MICHOT / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
BY DOUGLAS HANKS
Miami will offer $10 million for a developer willing to build and operate a production studio on city-owned land near Overtown, a move that would fill the void left by the pending demolition of the studio Burn Notice used for seven seasons at the Coconut Grove Convention Center.
The city’s Omni redevelopment agency would use property taxes to fund the project, which would be government-owned but built and operated by a private company. The city’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency released its request for proposals Monday, offering builders a 71,000-square building to retrofit at 50 NW 14th Street, just north of I-395 and about two blocks west of the Arsht Performing Arts Center.
In releasing the proposal, Miami officially launched the competition for a project that has won praise and criticism from South Florida’s production industry. Some existing studios question the need for another competitor, while others welcome a modern facility as a way to boost the city’s standing in the industry.
“What they’re building is nothing that doesn’t already exist in town,” said Raul Rodriguez, owner of the M3 studios in Miami. “What can you do in that studio that you can’t already do in Miami?”
But Carlene Tiedemann, general manager of Greenwich Studios, one of the largest in the Miami area, said she regularly turns business away and would be happy for new space. Started by Ivan Tors in the early 1960s, the studio used to be home to Flipper and Gentle Ben but now gets most of its work from Spanish-language shows that Telemundo doesn’t have room to house itself.
“I don’t consider another studio to be competition,” she said. “I’ve been booked for seven years.”
The CRA in 2011 paid $3.1 million to Miami-Dade Schools for the building, which was formerly known as the Miami Skill Center. It would contribute an addition $10 million as a subsidy for the construction costs and rent the facility to the operator. The money would come from an ongoing diversion of property taxes in the redevelopment area, with the money designed for projects and uses within that neighborhood to boost economic activity.
Burn Notice ended its run this summer as a mainstay of production work after USA Network announced it wouldn’t come back for an eighth season, followed by the cancellation of Starz’s period drama, Magic City, which filmed in converted studio space on the Miami River. The Glades, an A&E crime drama with studios in Pembroke Park, also got canceled.
That left Graceland, another USA Network series, as the only English-language series with the possibility of filming a full season in South Florida if it gets renewed, said Leah Sokolowsky, a Broward-based location manager and president of the Film Florida trade group.
“Right now, it’s kind of the last one standing,” Sokolowsky said.
In pursuing the studio, Miami is counting on an upswing for a production industry that in recent years has followed the trajectory of Florida’s subsidies for television shows and movies. The nearly $300 million program is set to sunset in 2016, and the dwindling supply of state dollars is all but spoken for by productions across the state. That makes it harder to recruit new productions, who have the option to pursue government dollars elsewhere.
Burn Notice collected millions from Florida. But studio space was an issue for the spy series, which fought back eviction efforts in the Grove as city leaders pushed to convert the abandoned convention center into park area. Along with Burn Notice, which airs its series finale Thursday after a seven-year run, the Grove studio was used to film the Marley & Me movie in 2009.
A draft business plan commissioned by the CRA predicts the facility will cost about $700,000 to operate, and that it could cover those expenses with only a 25 percent occupancy rate.
The development criteria include requirements for two sound stages, raising the roof to allow for 50-foot ceilings, sound-proofing the building, and creating office space and facilities for special effects. Marc Sarnoff, the Miami commissioner representing Coconut Grove, led the push to vacate the convention center and find permanent studio space elsewhere in the city. He and other officials see a modern. custom-made studio instantly becoming a top draw in Florida, and providing an option producers can’t find elsewhere in Miami.
“Have we had people come in and say this will operate and operate successfully? The answer is yes,” Sarnoff said. “I think this is going to work.”