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Investors planning $20M film, television studio for major productions in Missoula

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Posted at 1:04 PM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-04 12:36:23-04

MISSOULA — A media company is looking to build Montana’s first studio-grade sound stage for television and film production in Missoula on 16 acres of land located in the Technology Park near Missoula International Airport.

The site’s location, the city’s daily direct flights from Los Angeles and Montana’s newly created film incentives helped attract Shadowcast Partners to Missoula, where they plan to locate their $20 million Montana Media Hub, they said on Thursday.

“We think Montana is in a great position to really establish a new industry and capture a lot of market share,” said project partner Adam Graham. “The proximity to the airport is fantastic and it’s why we’re targeting this site.”

Graham said the team is currently working with industry experts, county planning and a local construction firm to pin down a proposed development schedule. The property is expected to go under contract in the coming weeks followed by final design.

The county has already approved the project for the area’s zoning and the Missoula Development Authority is expected to forward a pending purchase offer to commissioners next week. If all the pieces fall into place, construction would likely begin early next year.

Members of the investment team walked the property on Thursday with a local construction firm.

“When we did the feasibility study, the Missoula Technology Park was one of the three properties we looked at as a good potential for developing the media campus,” said Steve Grove, CEO of Montana Studios. “The heavy lift we had ahead of us was getting the film incentive passed. We got that accomplished.”

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The $20 million project is proposed for 16 acres in the Missoula Technology Park near Missoula International Airport.

In a presentation to county commissioners, members of the team said they were seeking a construction loan of $11.8 million from a local bank to finance the Montana Media Hub, which is the project’s working name.

The project, which carries a total cost of $19.1 million, would create a 120,000 square-foot facility built specifically to industry standards for film and television production. It would include three 20,000 square-foot sound stages along with flex space for smaller needs, such as video game and software makers.

Graham said visual streaming content has entered a period of rapid growth given the advent of new technology and the explosion of new productions and channels. He described the Montana Media Hub as an asset class that’s in high demand but is lacking supply.

Industry experts don’t expect that demand to diminish any time soon, he said.

“This is really focused on television and film production, but it could also include steaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple, or large network and cable giants like Paramount, Warner Brothers and Hallmark,” said Graham. “We think Montana is poised with the right investment to establish a strong new industry in the state due to the MEDIA Act and tax incentives passed last year.”

Aside from the location and accessibility from Los Angeles, project backers said the Montana MEDIA Act played a role in their decision to locate the facility in Missoula. Since the act was adopted, more than 120 productions have been filmed in the state, delivering roughly $47 million in economic impact while creating 280 full time jobs.

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An early rendering of the proposed project.

The local economic impacts of the Montana Media Hub would include new jobs, the purchase of local goods, a demand for air service, and greater hotel occupancy, among others. It could also result in film-induced tourism, a boost to local arts and culture, and employee spending.

“We’re going to work along the path that we’ll manage this on a project-by-project basis so that tenants would come in and use the space for a particular television season series or movie,” said Graham.

“It’s also quite likely that well-capitalized groups like Netflix, Amazon or Apple, given the overall lack of available space and their need to produce new content and have space on hand, may see this space and lock it down for a year or two.”

The proposed project would follow shortly after the Kevin Costner series Yellowstone moved its operations from Utah to Missoula. Production for that series will take place at the county’s other development park in Bonner.

“When we talk about this (Montana Media Hub) being the first purpose-built facility, that’s because it’s being built to be a sound stage from the ground up,” Grove said. “The fact that Yellowstone made the decision to ship their entire production from Utah to Montana was the catalyst that kicked some of the other investment groups on board in terms of seeing that things are for real in terms of major productions coming to Montana.”