By Haley Wachdorf – New Mexico Business Weekly
January 27, 2006
The movie train isn’t stopping in downtown Albuquerque after all.
The executives of Digital Media Group say they’ve dumped plans to build a $50 million film studio in the old Santa Fe Railroad repair yard in downtown Albuquerque.
The plans, announced in early 2005, have been derailed by legal delays and red tape, say company officials. Instead of pressing ahead Downtown, DMG and its co-investor Pacifica Ventures are shopping for 50 acres of land at Mesa del Sol on the southeast mesa of Albuquerque for the project.
There is not yet a firm deal between DMG, Pacifica and Mesa del Sol, but Elliott Lewitt, co-CEO of DMG, says that even if the studio does not go to Mesa del Sol, its deal with the railyard is off the table.
Representatives of Mesa del Sol confirmed Jan. 24 that the studio developers had approached them about two weeks earlier and asked to be shown land in the 12,900-acre development.
Lewitt says he regrets having to relocate the project, but says the lawsuits against the owners of the railyard land were bogging the project down.
“The problems that have plagued the site continue to plague it,” he says. “There remained too many outstanding issues with no reasonable certainty of a favorable resolution.
The site was becoming too expensive for a studio and confronted with a demonstrable, pressing need for studio facilities in New Mexico, a move to an alternate site became necessary. It’s a shame.”
The deal for the railyard studio project was announced in February of 2005 with much fanfare by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and Gov. Bill Richardson, who hailed the film studio as a shot at revitalization for the Barelas area. The facility was to include two 20,000-square-foot sound stages, two digital insert stages, a construction mill, and food service and child care facilities. It would have been be able to handle every phase of digital film and TV project, from pre-production to post-production, and also serve as a center to work with advanced medical imaging technologies, virtual reality training and other digital technologies, said DMG’s two co-CEOs Lewitt and Debra Rosen, when the plans were announced.
Lewitt says the change in location will only make the project grow in scope, and added that if land was purchased in Mesa del Sol, the project would break ground “as soon as humanly possible.” He says DMG has no contractual obligation to the railyard project and can walk away at any time.
Mike Daly, COO of Mesa del Sol, confirmed that DMG is looking at land in Mesa del Sol, but is quick to point out that no deal has been finalized. Still, he is just as quick to say that the studio would be more than welcomed at Mesa del Sol.
“There is no deal right now,” Daly says. “They’ve approached us and expressed an interest. It could be a good deal because it would generate more demand for housing, for retail, and support services and become another economic engine there. It would be terrific.”
It’s probably not such good news to Chavez, who has repeatedly stated his enthusiasm for the project locating Downtown. A spokesperson for Chavez said on Wednesday that the mayor was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
When the deal was announced in early 2005, Chavez and Lewitt both said they knew that the Urban Council of Albuquerque, which bought the 27 acres in 2000, had defaulted on its $2.5 million loan from the Los Alamos National Bank and was mired in a complicated legal battle with a former investor, Ohio businessman Richard Maron.
But both men said they were confident the legal obstacles would be overcome quickly.
Then, in September, residents of the Barelas neighborhood expressed concern that the film studio plans might not adequately preserve the history of the railyard, which was the economic heart of the neighborhood for years.
All together, it was just too much, Lewitt says.
“For now, we, sadly, do not see a way of going forward at the railyard,” he says.