The first phase of Hill Country Studios could open next year in San Marcos. Groundbreaking is expected later this year. HILL COUNTRY GROUP LLC

Austin Business Journal reports, "a quarter-billion-dollar film studio planned south of Austin has secured key approvals that should keep the first pieces on track to open next year.

Hill Country Group LLC on Aug. 1 received a second and final approval from San Marcos City Council to annex and zone pieces of what's earmarked to be the $267 million Hill Country Studios project on 209 acres at 6202 W. Centerpoint Road, in the La Cima master-planned community.

It's a significant milestone for a project that has turned heads for more than a year and could eventually provide more than 800,000 square feet of studio facilities at full buildout, including 12 purpose-built sound stages, four workshops and more than 200,000 square feet of production office space, according to its website. Groundbreaking is planned for later this year.

"We are very appreciative of the city of San Marcos through this process. We are happy with the momentum and excited to keep moving forward toward making Hill Country Studios available in 2024," Hill Country Group CEO Cory McLoud said in an Aug. 1 statement.

Hill Country Studios has been highly anticipated, and at times controversial, since Austin Business Journal first revealed details about the film studio last summer. It would be a major development in San Marcos, a city of about 70,000 some 30 miles south of Austin, known for its beautiful river and Texas State University.

Previously outlined plans for Hill Country Studios call for the studio to rise on 75 acres of a 209-acre plot in three phases. Phase 1A would include seven production stages, two workshops and a welcome center, while phase 1B would include 250,000 square feet of office space. Phase 2 would include five additional stages, two workshops and support space.

Overall, the project is set to include 12 sound stages across 310,000 square feet, two back lots totaling 15 acres of outdoor production space, 310,000 square feet of modular offices and four workshops. Twenty-five acres will be reserved for vendor and commercial space. Buildout could total 820,000 square feet — about the size of a regional mall.

The capital investment is expected to be around $267 million while full-time employment is estimated to be at least 44 with an average salary of $100,000. Additionally, the studio's proponents estimated it would average around 1,200 contract workers when projects are filmed on location, with an average salary of $80,000. Hill Country Group has also committed to participate in an internship program for students.

Both San Marcos and Hays County have approved incentives for the project in the form of property tax rebates.

At the city level, the incentives would start with a 90% property tax rebate once the studio is fully built and decrease to a 20% rebate by the end of the deal. That five-year deal was estimated to total $3.7 million in property tax rebates over the course of the agreement, while the city would retain $11.5 million over a decade. The city is expected to collect $2.1 million in property taxes before the incentives become active in 2025.

Critics of Hill Country Studios have expressed some concerns about the project, primarily potential negative effects to the adjacent Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. Council members decided last year the economic benefits and promised environmental protections from the developer, compared with other projects possible on the land, made it a good fit for the fast-growing city between San Antonio and Austin.

Those benefits were reiterated during recent Council meetings to annex and rezone the majority of the property, which is owned by Hill Country Group.

"There's been a lot of questions about when this project is going to move forward," City Councilman Mark Gleason said during a July meeting. "I'm glad to see this moving forward and again welcome to the community and looking forward to what this is going to bring to the community — potential opportunities."

Hill Country Studios "is going to be something different" for San Marcos, Mayor Jane Hughson added during the same meeting. "Something different for many other people to participate, work and etcetera."

The project will come at a critical time for the film industry in Texas. The Legislature this year appropriated $200 million in incentives for TV, movies, commercials and video games in the next biennium, although it stopped short of revamping the tax rebate program, as some in the film industry desired.

During the lead-up to the legislation, Hill Country Studios Chief Operations Officer Kevin Bar said it had been lobbying for increased incentives and would support whatever bill had "the best chance of being approved." He said increased incentives would be a "great step in the right direction" to compete with other states and build a thriving film industry.

"To do that, you need that incentive," Bar said. "It's noted and it's always going to come in play when you have that L.A. versus Georgia versus New Mexico or Louisiana, New York — they all compete, and they all have competitive budgets to see what show can kind of get you the most bang for your buck."

But he had also noted that the folks behind Hill Country Studios were "in it for the long haul.""


Source: Austin Business Journal 

Written by: Justin Sayers

Published: August 2, 2023

Posted by Grossman & Jones Group on


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