Schenectady film studio plan in doubt after Cuomo veto
SCHENECTADY Local lawmakers are upset at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto of a bill that would have expanded the state’s film tax credit program to the Capital Region and Hudson Valley.
The expansion was sure to benefit one California company looking to build a film studio along the Mohawk River in Schenectady, but as of Thursday evening, it was unclear how the governor’s Wednesday night veto would affect those plans.
“Film companies are currently considering putting down roots in our region, but they will not do so if other upstate communities have an advantage,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who co-sponsored the bill. “My legislation would have provided Albany and Schenectady counties with an even playing field when it comes to attracting film companies and the jobs that come along with them to our communities.”
The bill was introduced in May to expand a lucrative portion of the Empire State Film Production Tax Credit to production companies willing to film in Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and 11 other counties that aren’t currently eligible to receive it. It passed in the Assembly and Senate in June and made it to the governor’s desk earlier this month.
On Wednesday night, he vetoed the bill, saying that while he’s been a champion of film production throughout the state, the tax credit program was designed to attract filmmakers to areas where production has historically lagged. In a veto memo, he stated that the Hudson Valley and Capital Region already have “an established and robust film production industry by virtue of their proximity to New York City.”
Even so, lawmakers are worried the veto could give Santa Monica, Calif.-based Pacifica Ventures second thoughts about its proposal to build a $68.9 million television and film studio on the former site of the American Locomotive Company factory in Schenectady. The studio would go up on 10 acres of the site, which is bordered by the Mohawk River and Erie Boulevard. About 1,000 new jobs would be created, with anywhere from 200 to 500 of them full-time positions.
Pacifica Ventures CEO Dana Arnold did not return a call for comment Thursday, but he spoke to The Daily Gazette in September after his plans for the studio were announced. He made it clear at the time his company builds only in states where these tax incentives are offered, because although the incentives don’t help with construction costs, they lure film productions to the area.
“It’s the only reason we’re here,” he told The Gazette. “It’s the only reason. Because without it, without the state supporting production and film, the production and film industry would go somewhere else and there would be no reason for us to have a studio.”
The company is currently waiting to hear on a $15 million state grant request submitted in the current round of Gov. Cuomo’s Regional Council initiative. Pacifica has made it publicly known that the funding is key to its locating in Schenectady.
Pacifica hired the Albany firm Brown & Weinraub to lobby for the tax credit expansion, but it’s unclear whether the expansion holds as much significance to its coming here as the state funding does.
Nearby counties are eligible for the credit, but that’s not enough, in Santabarbara’s opinion.
“I wanted to put in this piece of legislation because it levels the playing field,” he said Thursday. “It gives us the same advantages and opportunities to attract studios here as those other counties.”
Santabarbara said he doesn’t know why some counties were chosen and others excluded for the credit. Several films have shot on location in the Capital Region in recent years, including “Salt” in 2010 and “The Place Beyond the Pines” in 2012.
“There is a lot happening here,” he said. “But this would have taken away any roadblocks studios have to wanting to film here. I’m hoping we can work together to make this happen next session. I will keep up the fight to bring this tax credit here.”
State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, released a statement Thursday voicing his disappointment with the veto, as well. He said all parts of the state should be treated fairly and equally when it comes to the credit.
“We’re talking about economically distressed areas that could really benefit from the jobs and economic activity that would be generated by film production,” he said. “I hope this veto is only a temporary setback.”
In his veto message, the governor said any expansion of the credit should be discussed as part of the 2014-15 budget.