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A groundbreaking day

POSTED: August 29, 2013 7:20 p.m.
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A rendering of The Leaf, a 360,000-square-foot glass structure that will be an amphitheater seating 25,000 people on the Medient site.

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A business that often deals in fantasy and fiction is closing in on being a reality in Effingham County.


Manu Kumaran, chief executive officer of Medient, with a legion of officials and representatives from his company, presided Thursday morning over a ceremonial groundbreaking — and coconut smashing — for the planned megaplex studio in the southern corner of Effingham County.


“We could not be happier,” Kumaran said. “And that is the reality of life. This project should be here. This will change everybody’s life.”


Medient has entered into a lease for all of the 1,550 acres of the Effingham IDA’s northern tract at its Interstate 16 and Old River Road holdings. The IDA and the company entered into a 20-year lease for the property earlier this month, and the land will transfer to the company at the end of the lease. Clearing of the property, which is almost exclusively unused forest, has begun.


“You’re just now beginning to get your hands around and grasp what this really means,” said Effingham Industrial Development Authority Chairman Dennis Webb. “It’s going to be a game-changer for Effingham.”

Kumaran projects work on the first films to begin by the end of the first quarter of 2014. The studio portion of the development is projected to employ at least 1,000 people and add $90 million in direct investment.


“That’s adding 10 percent to our in-county workforce,” Webb said. “And that’s just inside the borders of this project. We don’t know what’s going to happen outside of it.”


The studio, when finished, is projected to be the largest movie-making facility in the United States.


“This has phenomenal potential,” said Effingham IDA CEO John Henry. “It’s the start of something big.”


Kumaran and his team selected Effingham County after an international search and chose the site after nearly choosing to place the studio near Poughkeepsie, N.Y.


“I’ve wanted to do this for 10 years,” he said. “I always thought we’d be on the shore of a sea or on a river. We tried really hard to find that particular property I had in mind.


“But I think this is a more practical choice,” he added. “Georgia is great. The state has been wonderful. Effingham is spectacular, and the people are very, very warm. This is more of a choice of the head, which I don’t do very often. We’re here because it made a lot of logical sense.”


Georgia’s warm climate, along with its favorable business climate through film tax credits, also helped sway Kumaran to the South.


“Winter is only three months,” he said, “but it’s 25 percent of your life. It’s a big factor.”


Medient’s effects will be felt throughout the Coastal Empire and the state, according to Henry.


“Today we not only break ground in Effingham County, we set a cornerstone for a new sector of our economy,” he said. “This is unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with in the past. This will have far-reaching impacts.”


“What we do isn’t about competition — it’s about collaboration,” said Jay Self of the Savannah Film Office. “This is going to benefit everyone. It’s going to benefit the entire region.”


Henry admitted he was much more familiar with manufacturers and warehouse-distribution needs than the requirements of a movie studio. When he showed the property on a cold October evening, by the headlights of his vehicle — “it was our last effort,” Henry said — he noticed Kumaran lit up at seeing the tract.


“I used to work in residential real estate, and when people start placing furniture in the room, you know you’ve got a deal then,” he said.


A movie studio wasn’t what the IDA had in mind as it marketed its property. But when New York officials asked Kumaran’s representatives if they were looking at Georgia, they got the idea to start finding property in the Empire State of the South rather than the Empire State.


“You couldn’t dream of that,” Webb said of the studio. “I always envisioned it would be some kind of heavy manufacturing. To be able to put a project like this on this location is infinitely better. It’s better for Effingham, it will be better for the people of Meldrim, it will be better for the neighbors. This is terrific. It’s going to change the region.”


Medient also visited sites in Liberty and Chatham counties, and Webb noted how glad Chatham’s economic development arm was that the project was coming to Effingham.


“When you see them excited about something that’s happening in Effingham,” he said, “you know you’re on the right track.”


The original deal was for a $90 million capital investment, with $10 million for land, $40 million for equipment and $40 million for construction. Kumaran said the land is financed and the equipment is financed through a deal with Prime Focus. Atlas Film, a large European film distributor, also has been brought on board, and Kumaran also announced the inclusion of a construction firm that also will finance the building of the studioplex.


“We’re going to build a circle of alliances,” he said. “We’re going to bring strong partners to the table. We will make this happen.


“Our death has been predicted a thousand times,” Kumaran said. “We’ve been told multiple times that this cannot be done, that we cannot survive and that we ought to take up fishing or farming. But we’re here, and we’re happy to here.”


The first phase of construction will include the soundstages and offices for post-production and video game development. Homes for the studio workers will be built in the second phase.


“This is designed to be a high-tech campus where people live and work on the same campus,” Kumaran said.

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