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New movie studio coming to McKees Rocks

Jason Cato
| Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, 12:52 p.m.
Michael J. Finnerty (left), a Scott Township Democrat on Allegheny County Council, shows Gov. Tom Corbett plans for the new Island Studios complex in McKees Rocks on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Michael J. Finnerty (left), a Scott Township Democrat on Allegheny County Council, shows Gov. Tom Corbett plans for the new Island Studios complex in McKees Rocks on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014.

A movie studio expansion announced Thursday in McKees Rocks renewed focus on the region's burgeoning film industry and calls to increase state incentives used to attract production companies.

“This would not exist without the film tax credit program. That is a fact,” Michael Dolan, president of Island Studios, said after announcing plans to build a nearly $10 million studio — financed with $2.5 million in state money — on a former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad site. “It is critical to this business.”

Gov. Tom Corbett, one of more than 100 people who attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion, said he supports restoring the film tax credit program to the $75 million mark set by lawmakers in 2007. Since 2010, the program has received $60 million annually.

“I would certainly restore it to the original amount. We would need to look at expanding it beyond that,” said Corbett, a Shaler Republican, noting the 14,500 film and television jobs in the region. “When you have a chance to attract an industry, to really grow an industry, you've got to take advantage of it. And that's what we have here.”

Since 2007, producers have pumped more than $500 million into Western Pennsylvania's economy to make nearly 70 movies and television shows, the Pittsburgh Film Office reports.

“An industry does not grow overnight,” said Russ Streiner, producer of George Romero's iconic 1968 zombie thriller “Night of the Living Dead” and film office board chairman. “Each element that comes into the infrastructure makes Pittsburgh more and more and more viable for the film production industry.”

In addition to landing film projects, Island Studios can help the region land multi-year television series, Streiner said.

“We have some looking here now,” he said.

In 2008, Dolan converted a former industrial shed into Island Studios on McKees Rock's Island Avenue. Immediately, he began planning an expansion, as the original site could not accommodate larger productions.

“The first film production we were involved in was called ‘The Bridge to Nowhere,' ” Dolan, 35, of Naples, Fla., formerly of Fox Chapel, said at the new site in the shadow of the McKees Rocks Bridge. “We are standing here because this bridge is now going somewhere, and it's going to McKees Rocks.”

The new Island Studios building will include 60,000 square feet of sound stages in addition to production offices, warehouse space and crew housing. Construction could take nine months.

It would become the region's first newly built movie studio; 31st Street Studios in Lawrenceville operates in a converted steel mill.

Two start-up production companies plan to film at the facility next year. Dolan said Island Studios plans to host larger studios such as Lionsgate, Warner Bros. and others that have shot in the region.

The structure will be the first built on the former brownfield, which has four plots in addition to one where CSX Corp. plans to build a freight center, said Craig Rippole, president of Trinity Commercial Development.

The rebirth of the former industrial site will help the community continue to rebuild, said Taris Vrcek, executive director of McKees Rocks Community Development Corp.

“We knew this site had to be a game-changer. It had to be transformative,” he said.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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