Film studio losing money, costing taxpayers millions


A CBS46 investigation found a film studio built by the Paulding County Industrial Building Authority is losing money and costing taxpayers. Meanwhile, a commissioner who voted to use tax dollars to help fund the studio admitted he made a mistake.

According to financial records, Atlanta Film Studios in Hiram has not been able to cover its costs with revenue collected by leasing out the space to filmmakers.

Since opening in 2012, the facility has lost $837,827. By the end of the summer, more than $1.3 million will have been paid toward the $6.5 million bond that was issued to cover construction costs.

The Industrial Building Authority is making the payments with funds collected from taxpayers and revenue generated from other projects.

"It may have not turned out as well as we have thought. Would you do it the same way? Probably not," said Paulding County Commissioner Tommie Graham to CBS46 investigative reporter Jeff Chirico.

In 2011, Graham told Chirico he was so convinced the studio would create hundreds of jobs for county residents that he voted to back the bonds with taxpayer dollars if the studio couldn't make the payments.

Since opening, the studio has landed only a few major productions. Scenes from the Jackie Robinson film "42" and the pilot for AMC's new drama "Halt and Catch Fire" were filmed here. A new reality talent show wrapped up filming this month.

But for most of the past 27 months, the studio has sat unused.

Despite Graham's predictions, the facility has created only one full-time position and neither Graham nor IBA executive director Blake Swafford could point to any other jobs created as a direct result of the facility.

When Chirico asked if Graham was comfortable with taxpayers paying for the studio, he responded, "I have to. We made the commitment."

Swafford asked the public to withhold judgment on the success of the studio for now.

"We didn't really expect it to cover its costs in the first two years. We're in the first quarter of the third year of operation. We do hope the studio breaks even this year and starts to make a profit in year four," said Swafford.

Graham acknowledged he now believes it's not government's responsibility to be in the leasing business and would not vote the same way if he had it to do over again.

"A mistake is a mistake if you don't learn from it. If you learn something from it, it wasn't a mistake," opined Graham.

When Chirico mentioned that some taxpayers may call it was a costly mistake they had warned county commissioners about three years earlier, Graham responded, "They might. Yes. If they do, they do."

Swafford pointed out that the studio is good for the community because visiting film crews spend money at local businesses.

Swafford said the studio space is booked for much of the rest of the year.

Copyright 2014 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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