Catawba Indian Nation leaders voted this week to end negotiations with a film producer to build and manage a movie studio on tribal land in eastern York County near Rock Hill.
The tribe announced Wednesday that it is halting a proposed $350 million project with Studio South of Charlotte. Tribal leaders said they will keep the door open for future deals.
The board of directors for The Corporate Nation voted “no” to the business deal, but tribal administrator Elizabeth Harris said in a statement Thursday that the Catawba Indians remain open to opportunities.
The Corporate Nation is a corporate charter of the Catawba Indian Nation, and is responsible for both oversight of existing businesses and evaluating proposals for future business opportunities. The board of directors was formed in August.
“We were certainly inspired by the excitement in our community around the idea of doing a movie studio,” Harris said in the statement. “We believe that there is still great potential for a movie studio business model that makes sense for all parties involved.”
In response to a list of emailed questions from The Herald, Harris said the project had potential, but, “the scope of the project and financing plan was not fully developed.” She said the board would be open to reconsidering the project if “the right deal was presented to us.”
She said the Studio South deal “did not meet criteria” set by the board.
15 Since 1983, 15 productions have been filmed in either York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
Tribal leaders first said in the summer of 2015 that they were carefully considering the deal, which would have made the Catawba Indian Reservation home to one of the largest movie studios east of Los Angeles.
The $350 million investment was projected to bring sound stages, a hotel, a new Catawba Cultural Center, a magnet school for film and music plus retail and office space on up to 124 acres of tribal land.
Catawba Chief Bill Harris told The Herald in 2015 that the project would be a game-changer for the tribe, giving it a steady income and removing its reliance on grant funding.
The studio was expected to be “one of the first green, eco-friendly movie studios in the country,” according to a Studio South website.
The $350 million project was expected to bring sound stages, a hotel, a new Catawba Cultural Center, a magnet school for film and music, plus retail and office space on up to 124 acres of tribal land.
Bert Hesse, of Studio South, told The Herald in 2015 that if the plan was approved, construction would begin soon and take up to 10 years. Phase I, expected to cost about $35 million, called for three sound stages and a tour-event center with an IMAX movie theater.
Studio South could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Earlier this spring, the Catawbas purchased their own multimedia production company, Red Heritage Media.
The proposed project between Studio South and the Catawba Indians was similar, but smaller, to one that Hesse pitched to the Charlotte City Council in 2013. He proposed a $125 million movie studio project.
We believe that there is still great potential for a movie studio business model that makes sense for all parties involved.
Tribal administrator Elizabeth Harris, with the Catawba Indian Nation
Hesse said he invested $1 million and two years into the project before the Charlotte City Council ended discussions.
Since 1983, 15 productions have been filmed in York, Chester and Lancaster counties. The biggest was the $75 million film “The Patriot” starring Mel Gibson, which was filmed locally in York County, including at Historic Brattonsville.
The television series “Outcast” for Cinemax has filmed in Rock Hill, York and Chester, pumping millions into the regional economy for housing, filming locations, fuel, building supplies and housing for crew.