Movie, television studio pitched for Algiers site _lowres

Rendering provided by Deep South Studios -- An artist's rendering shows Deep South Studios, the $63.5 million film and television production facility planned for a 17-acre piece of land near the Crescent City Connection in Algiers.

The New Orleans City Council signed off Tuesday on a plan to convert a 17.5-acre former railroad yard in Algiers into a $63.5 million film and television production facility.

Algiers native Scott Niemeyer, who has produced movies in Louisiana for the past 13 years, plans to turn a piece of land on Mardi Gras Boulevard into Deep South Studios, which he said will be the largest production facility between Atlanta and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The first phase of construction will include two administrative buildings, five enclosed stages and a production storage warehouse, among other structures. In all, it will include 291,500 square feet of space.

The second phase — which Niemeyer said may include some post-production space and an educational component for training college students in the digital media and production industries — has not been presented in detail. It would need separate approval from the city.

Niemeyer has said construction of the studio and backlot will create 1,100 jobs. The studio would be operated by about two dozen people, but the movie and television productions it accommodates could each have more than 100 people working on them at a time.

His plan was approved 6-0 by the council, with Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell absent. The endorsement followed that of the City Planning Commission.

Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who represents Algiers, called the plan a win for her district and the city. “We are excited about the jobs that it will bring and the further development along that area,” she said.

The planned facility is easily the biggest brick-and-mortar investment in the local film industry since the state ended a program that heavily subsidized spending on film-related infrastructure.

Though the council’s OK was a welcome development for Niemeyer, more vital to his long-term success are the state lawmakers who will decide the fate of Louisiana’s generous tax credit program for film production. Without that program, local film facilities likely will see little activity.

Critics say the film production tax credit, which covers 30 percent of the cost of films made here, costs the state more in taxes than it creates in economic activity, worsening the state’s budget crisis. But supporters say the spending has been worth it, luring big-name filmmakers and building a cottage industry of film professionals.

The program already has been somewhat curtailed. Lawmakers this year instituted a $180 million annual cap on tax credits issued through the program. The cap lasts for three years.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.