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A new movie studio is coming to Fort Lauderdale. It’ll replace a former toxic waste site

Miami Herald - 4/25/2024

Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday formally announced a partnership to build a movie studio on the 60-acre site of the former Wingate Road municipal incinerator dump, with the hopes of increasing jobs in the area. Connecticut entertainment company Infinite Reality will be the primary tenant.

Mayor Dean Trantalis said the city was first approached in 2021 about the idea of building a movie studio on the property, which has sat vacant for decades. The plan now in development will include full-service movie, television and streaming production studios, as well as multiple large sound stages, said John Milledge, an attorney for the project. Early plans also call for a minimum of 100,000 square feet of offices, indoor and outdoor film sets, a film school and a back lot.

Fort Lauderdale Studio Initiative LLC, a corporation spearheaded by developer Michael Ullian, and Infinite Reality will pay for construction costs. A 2022 presentation to the City Commission noted the cost of construction and development would be $163.9 million.

After the project is complete, the corporation will have a $1 annual lease with Fort Lauderdale for 50 years. The city is not responsible for any costs associated with the project, Milledge said.

“This is a public-private partnership,” Trantalis said. “We know that they’re going to be spending tens of millions of dollars to build out this project. This land was sitting vacant and unused for many decades, and this becomes an opportunity for us. And we’re willing to make that investment with them because we know it’s going to bring jobs and that jobs will have the ripple effect of bringing more jobs, businesses and greater opportunities for everybody in the area.”

The development is expected to bring more than 1,000 jobs with salaries of about $100,000, Milledge said.

Located at 1400 NW 31st Ave., the former Superfund site was once home to the Wingate Road municipal incinerator dump and operated as a waste incineration facility from 1954 to 1978, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1989, the site was placed on the EPA Superfund program’s National Priorities List for containing contaminated soil and surface water as a result of poor waste disposal practices.

In the years after the site was closed, the city became ensnared in lawsuits after residents sued, alleging that toxins from the incinerator were causing their health problems. The site does not currently threaten people living and working nearby, according to the EPA.

The new film studio could transform the area and bring jobs to a portion of the town that has been neglected, Commissioner Robert McKinzie said.

Another part of the project will be a film school that trains people for jobs in the industry, such as students at nearby Dillard High School.

“We’ve got to have kids get into this industry,” McKinzie said. “Most of the time, a kid graduates from here, goes out to California, goes to New York. [Now] they can graduate at Dillard and come over here. So it’s a great opportunity, and the resistance from the community was very, very slim.”

Film Florida President Sandy Lighterman told the Herald that 15 movies were filmed in the Fort Lauderdale area last year, and another eight or nine are in the pipeline for this year. She said Infinite Reality’s move to Fort Lauderdale is a positive step and could encourage other companies in the industry to relocate to the city.

“The good part of this is this will be the testing ground,” Lighterman said. “I think this will be the way to show what can be done and how economically it will actually benefit those businesses.” Lighterman pointed to Florida’s lack of state income tax as a plus.

The earliest the film studio could come to Fort Lauderdale is 2026, Milledge said, with construction expected to begin next year.

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