Is Albuquerque Studios In Freefall?
Abq. Studios came to New Mexico in 2007 with what I reported in January was a $91.5 million investment in real estate driving enterprise. Eight soundstages, proximity to great locations like the Very Large Array, a concierge to meet talents personal needs, all got rolled into the pitch which led productions as large as Terminator: Salvation and iconic as the AMC series Breaking Bad, to choose Abq.
Locally in New Mexico, as an early tenant at Mesa del Sol, Abq Studios was meant, along with other new businesses on the sun-planked mesa south of the airport, to ring the job-creating gong that would pace an envisioned (eventual) 37,500-unit strong housing development. But not so fast — for a lot of things. A year ago in March, Mesa del Sol announced its restructuring and now forecasts the housing development at 35 to 50 years out, from its website. From the mesa driving toward Abq. Studios you can see the Eclipse Aviation sign, and its boisterous logo; that company declared bankruptcy last year).
April 28, news reports broke of the Studios defaulting on a Workers Realty bank note, and a foreclosure auction in the offing. (Foreclosure rumors have since been squelched.) Workers Realty Bank took out an ad in Abq. Journal claiming they were owed $21.5 million in the defaulted loan.”¨ Pacifica Mesa LLC which owns Abq. Studios is the VC outfit under Hal Katersky and Dana Arnold, both California developers with roots along the stretch of road that includes Pepperdine University Malibu and the beach enclaves to the north, that had brought in Nick Smerigan as COO of Abq Studios.
I reported January 3 on a panel Nick Smerigan ran at the Santa Fe Film Festival in which the possibilities of post-production coming to New Mexico were aired. (Prospects for post-production in the state have been iffy.)
Studios official word had been that over four and a half years in business, the Studios film investment exceeded $400 million in New Mexico. Smerigan called the 8 soundstages, “some of the largest in America.” His business partner Jeremy Hariton responsible for selling the Studios to producers in California and elsewhere, described in a podcast, “We really wanted to have a clean slate to be able to build from.” New Mexico and specifically Albuquerques drylands east of I-25, was that “clean slate.”
While New Mexico film dot com currently lists Scoundrels, starring Virginia Madsen, as being in production at Abq Studios, the Studios, which on its website in red type lists Pacifica Ventures as the management entity, is now being run by Wayne Rauschenberger, who told the Associated Press last month that bookings continue ongoing.
The Associated Press also reported that Jan. 22 was the last day of the management team of Nick Smerigan, his wife Gail (who held the title of vice president for PR), and brothers Jeremy and Jason Hariton, and that Pacifica has filed suit against Nick Smerigan and the Haritons, alleging that they were moonlighting to develop rival business for other states, according to a source close to the situation.
City of Abq economic development official Ann Lerner scoffed last week that the Studios was never at risk of foreclosure auction. Yet in discussing the economic development prospects for Abq. she held her index finger to her thumb to signal “zero” as the amount of economic development capital available this year into at least fiscal 2012, beginning July 2011.
So, will Abqs filmmaking center, as envisioned in 2005-2007, prove indeed to be the fertile soil by which New Mexicos youth, after gaining training in ” necessary critical, creative, and technical skills to apply digital technologies in innovative and productive ways,” will find work? Or are we running a three-legged race simply to stand still?