FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 4, 2012
SCHUMER: CONSTRUCTION OF NYC’S FIRST-EVER OUTDOOR MOVIE STUDIO BEING HELD UP BY BUREAUCRATIC RED TAPE; CALLS ON FEDS TO QUICKLY APPROVE PROJECT PLANS THAT WILL MAKE NYC A MAJOR DESTINATION FOR FILM AND TELEVISION CLIENTS
United States Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the National Park Service (NPS), today, to immediately sign-off on a plan to allow the first-ever outdoor movie studio in New York City to stay on schedule and open in time to allow production use by the summer of 2013. Kaufman Astoria Studios (KAS), a major movie studio in Astoria, Queens is expanding its operation by building New York’s first-ever outdoor studio lot that will allow production companies to film exterior and special effects shots and attract new film and TV clients to NYC that otherwise would have to choose Los Angeles and other cities. The National Park Service, which deeded the land to New York City for the purposes of building this studio, had previously signed off on the deal, but is requiring an additional layer of review in order to approve slight design changes for the outdoor lot. Schumer pointed out that NPS is asking for this additional review despite the fact that the land – which they deeded to the city exclusively for film production – is being used for that exact purpose. Schumer pointed out that a second review by NPS of the design could push the $2 million project 3-4 months behind schedule and threaten the studio’s ability to host major productions by the summer of 2013.
“It’s time to say ‘action’ on this project, so that New York City can become the new star of the film and television industry,” said Schumer. “By building the City’s first ever outdoor studio lot, we can attract film and TV clients that would otherwise have to choose Los Angeles. We can provide a huge boost to New York’s booming film and television industries by getting this project completed so that major production companies can begin using the studio by summer of next year. This outdoor lot could become an iconic New York City destination like the great studios of Hollywood, but the National Park Service needs to stop the needless bureaucratic delays and allow this project to move forward.”
"The creation of the City’s first studio back lot is another chapter in realizing our vision for the studio as a complete campus. The back lot will add to the growth of the Kaufman Astoria Studios campus, the industry in New York and the economic development of the neighborhood. We are excited to see this project move forward,” said Hal Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria Studios.
Kaufman Astoria Studios, a major movie studio located in Astoria, Queens, has been trying to expand in its current location by building New York City’s first-ever outdoor movie studio lot. Kaufman plans to enclose 36th Street between 34th and 35th Avenues and build an iconic entry gate, at 36th Street on 35th Avenue – creating a dramatic studio campus that could become an iconic NYC destination. The studio will allow productions to shoot exterior and special effects shots within the Kaufman Studios campus, directly and conveniently adjacent to the interior sound stages, making NYC a destination for film and television clients who otherwise would have chosen Los Angeles, Toronto or New Orleans.
Kaufman has already received approval for the project, including enclosing 36th street, through the rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) – a local process that included approval from the NPS, Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and review of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). The project requires NPS approval because the site is on National Park Service land. In the 1970s, the National Park Service deeded the land to New York City with the stipulation that the historic site, originally a silent film mecca in the 1920s, continue to be used for film purposes. According to the terms of the deed, the agency must sign-off to ensure the land is being used for the purposes it was transferred. NPS, through the ULURP process, had already done that, but because the New York City’s Public Design Commission (PDC) subsequently requested that the project make slight design changes to add a more “gritty, industrial feel,” Kaufman Studios redesigned the gate at the entrance to the outdoor studios. The National Park Service has now informed the studio that because of the aesthetic changes to the gate, they would again have to review the entire project– a lengthy process that will mean project delays and increased costs.
Schumer called on NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis to waive this re-review of the project to allow construction to go forward immediately and not hold up the construction timeframe. Schumer noted that a second round of redundant approvals could delay the project significantly and threatens the ability of the studio to allow production companies to use the lot for the lucrative summer season of 2013. Schumer argued that this project would be a game-changer for the NYC film and television industry, helping it compete with bigger industries in LA and elsewhere and contributing to significant job growth in Queens. Schumer said the NPS should sign off on the project now to allow construction to begin and a summer 2013 opening to take place.
New York’s TV and film industry is booming. According to the New York Daily News, in 2011 188 films and a record 23 primetime TV shows were shot in New York City. Kaufman Astoria Studios already spent $23 million on a new indoor film and TV studio in 2010. And the other major movie studio in New York, Steiner Studios, recently announced that it would be adding five soundstages, at 45,000 square feet, to its facilities at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Astoria Studios has been making entertainment history for 90 years. Its doors were opened by the legendary Adolph Zuckor in 1920. Eventually, the studio became a home for Paramount Pictures, and during the next 20 years, over 120 silent and sound films were produced at the studio. At the start of WWII, the studio was taken over by the U.S. Signal Corps and became known as the Army Pictorial Center. The building eventually fell into disuse, until a non-profit foundation re-opened the big stage in 1977 for the production of "The Wiz. In 1980, New York City turned to real estate developer George S. Kaufman to renovate, expand and revive this national landmark. Working with many interested organizations, he was able to achieve his vision of a full-service, comprehensive studio capable of handling any type, size and style of production. Today, Kaufman Astoria Studios is the location for major motion pictures, independent films, television shows and commercials. Kaufman’s stages have been graced by stars such as Bill Cosby, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Demi Moore and the cast of Sesame Street.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to the National Park Service can be found below.
Dear Director Jarvis,
I write to urge National Park Service (NPS) to approve Kaufman Astoria Studios’ (KAS) design for a new Studio Lot at the demapped portion of 36th Street between 34th and 35th Avenues in Astoria, Queens. The project will be the first outdoor studio lot in New York City and would add a valuable asset to the City’s booming film industry. This expansion of the KAS would attract commercial investment, create jobs, assist community development and help New York become a more formidable player in an increasingly competitive global film and television industry.
In January 2011, KAS completed the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) receiving approval for their design and obtaining permission to demap the street. As part of this process KAS, as a member of the National Register of Historic Place, presented the schematic designs to NPS and received their approval. Following ULURP, the project proceeded through New York City’s Public Design Commission (PDC) review. The PDC required certain design changes to add a more industrial feel, which required alterations to the original design. KAS complied as directed and subsequently received approval from the PDC.
There has been an incredible amount of oversight and input from landmark agencies, including NPS. At this stage NPS’s design feedback must be worked out in an efficient and collaborative manner. The KAS project is focused on expanding the film industry at this historic site and is in keeping with NPS’s goal for the location. The architectural layout, which NPS originally determined posed no archeological concerns, has not changed. Furthermore, all design changes required by PDC have be done in such a way by KAS to add function to the lot as a film location, which also falls in line with NPS’s goal to grow the film industry at this location.
NPS must do anything it can facilitate the project’s advancement. KAS has already gone through extensive review and oversight processes that have included NPS input. Further reviews will be unnecessarily burdensome and could gravely affect the project’s financial standing. New York City’s television and film industry is entering a renaissance, and the bureaucratic process should not be the cause of a lost opportunity. I look forward to your reply. If there are any questions on this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer