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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Streamer Stages

The growing demand for television shows and movies has spurred a development boom for soundstages in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

At LA North Studios, John Prabhu and Anthony Syracuse, the two partners and co-founders, are busy with the buildout of a 113,000-square foot facility at 29051 Avenue Valley View in unincorporated L.A. County just outside the Santa Clarita borders. 

“It is estimated we will deliver the first two soundstages by the end of May, beginning of June,” Prabhu said.

After that facility is complete and they split one of their large stages at the 21401 Needham Ranch Parkway location, LA North will have 16 soundstages, 15 of which are certified. 

According to FilmLA, the Hollywood nonprofit that coordinates on-location filming permits, soundstages are certified by government authorities to meet certain specifications for fire detection, fire suppression, electrical installation and equipment use, among other requirements.

“The total footprint is around 460,000 square feet and that is made up of 16 soundstages and office space,” Prabhu said.

 Syracuse and Prabhu specialize in converting warehouse space into production space – a process that involves a lot more than just building four walls and finding tenants to rent the space.

“We want to do what we can to keep filming in Southern California,” Syracuse said. “That’s really what LA North is about.” 

Prabhu and Syracuse got together at the end of 2018. Prabhu’s background is in real estate while Syracuse’s is as a construction coordinator in the entertainment industry; namely building sets for feature films, including some from Marvel Entertainment, owned by The Walt Disney Co.

“That is a very important part of our marketing efforts,” Prabhu said of his partner’s day job. “Anthony knows a lot about these productions being filmed in and around L.A.”

It was Syracuse who saw the need for more production space in the Los Angeles area as more and more productions began to relocate out of state. Along with that went the jobs. 

The pair have looked at opportunities in other places, yet they still keep coming back to Santa Clarita, Syracuse said. 

“There is a lot of opportunity in other states to do what we are doing, and we come back around to that keeping jobs in Southern California is what we really want to do,” he added. 

Some of the shows and movies that have filmed at LA North properties include “King Richard,” starring Will Smith; the Amazon.com Inc. original movie “Bliss,” with Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek; “The Little Things,” with Denzel Washington and Jared Leto; and the one season of Showtime series “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.” 

The footprint throughout its facilities allows them to cater to all different types of productions, whether it is a smaller TV series, a streaming series or a feature film, Prabhu said. 

“We have the capabilities of servicing all those different clientele,” he added. 

Sam Glendon, a broker with CBRE Group Inc., said that his firm has estimated there will be approximately 1.3 million square feet of film and television soundstages in the greater Santa Clarita Valley once some conversion projects are completed in the next few months. 

“This doesn’t include production office space or production support uses like set storage, lighting storage, etc.,” Glendon said.

Streaming flood

As for the motivation behind all the soundstages in the Santa Clarita Valley, one reason cited by industry players is the increased number of streaming services and their strong desire for original content. 

“It seems like as soon as any space becomes available, it is almost immediately filled,” said Evan Thomason, an economic development associate in the city of Santa Clarita Film Office. “The studios are always looking to expand.” 

Holly Schroeder, chief executive of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp., said the simultaneous increase in the number of streaming services and the adoption of those streaming platforms by consumers has brought a boom to the area’s soundstages. 

Those two things converged to create more demand and for streaming companies to be creating their own high-quality content, she added.  

“Santa Clarita, because we are a growing community, has provided opportunities for quality buildings and approved soundstages that probably don’t exist in other parts of the region,” Schroeder said. 

“We have seen lots of interest from existing companies that have been here as well as new entrants like the proposed studios from Blackhall Studios looking to locate in Santa Clarita as well,” Schroeder added. 

Jeff Weber, owner of Newport Beach real estate firm J. Weber Group, is the lead of the development team working on BlackHall’s projects in Santa Clarita, Atlanta and England. 

BlackHall was acquired last year by Commonwealth Asset Management, a Los Angeles asset management company. 

The company is in the process of working its way through the city’s planning department and doing its environmental impact report. That process should take at least another year, Weber said. 

“We are continuing to refine the project and hopefully we’ll be ready to have our public hearings starting at the end of this year and the early part of next year,” Weber said.

The project calls for 19 soundstages, totaling about 480,000 square feet, along with 550,000 square feet of support space, 200,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of ancillary buildings, he said. “It is about 1.3 million total square footage,” he added.

The studio complex will be built on 93 acres at Railroad Avenue and 13th Street in downtown Newhall that was bought by BlackHall almost two year ago.

Another project that has yet to start building calls for 20 soundstages and associated office space at the Southern California Innovation Park, owned by Oxford Properties Group.

“They are approved by right to have the soundstages in that location as it is a business park, but they still need to get approvals on the individual buildings through the city process,” Thomason said. “We are working closely with them.” 

Production Surge

Asked how long the content creation upswing can continue, LA North’s Prabhu responded, “I wish I had a crystal ball for that.”

He and Syracuse feel comfortable that there is a window of opportunity for productions to stay in California and fill their space.

“You have these surges that go up and down,” Syracuse said. “I haven’t seen a down. We just continue to climb.”

Syracuse had two predictions. One is that there will be several more years of growth and then the numbers will plateau. “I don’t think it will crash,” he said.

The second is that there will be more competition for soundstage rentals but it will be “good competition,” he said. 

“We have the ability to say, ‘Hey, we’re booked but we would love to send you over here.’ That’s good,” Syracuse said. “You may not have 95 or 100 percent capacity, but I think there will be a solid number.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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