Toronto’s ‘other studios’ in holding pattern

The face of Toronto's Port Lands will soon be quite different.

The face of Toronto’s Port Lands will soon be quite different.

A number of production services companies in the area have seen their leases pulled to make way for the City of Toronto’s waterfront rejuvenation plans, leading them to set up new digs elsewhere.

Meanwhile, two major soundstages in the area, Cinespace Film Studios and Showline, are awaiting word of their futures from the city. And although Toronto Film Studios’ rival FilmPort megastudio project – greenlit in a special deal with the city – has not yet broken ground in the Port Lands, its shadow can certainly be felt.

Twenty-one companies were displaced in the first phase of the waterfront rejuvenation, acknowledges Toronto film commissioner Karen Thorne-Stone.

‘We understand how vital location is to all these companies, and we work on a case-by-case basis to help them relocate,’ she says.

The city doesn’t want these companies to go too far, insists Michael Booth, who heads special projects for the mayor’s office.

‘The economic development department of the city has been working very closely with these businesses to help them find new locations that still work for the film community,’ he says.

Paul Kenyan of Absolute Location Services confirms that his company is moving, after receiving ‘terrific’ assessment and administrative assistance from the city, the Ontario Realty Corporation and the waterfront revitalization group.

Absolute’s need for large warehouse and parking spaces, and proximity to film industry clients, was of paramount importance. And, as it turns out, Kenyan didn’t have to travel far – his new 185 Eastern Avenue location is just down the block from his current 207 Eastern Avenue home. The company officially moves mid-September, and Kenyan is eyeing more than $1 million in refurbishment.

After much speculation in 2005 about pending evictions, Cinespace and Showline hadn’t yet received word that they’ll have to vacate. Of concern, however, is the non-competition clause built into the Toronto Film Studios lease for FilmPort – a concession granted by the City of Toronto Economic Development Corporation and supported by Mayor David Miller. Rival studios can’t set up on the city-owned Port Lands area.

‘Showline is fully supportive of the growth and progress of the studio infrastructure in Ontario,’ says Showline president Peter Lukas. But he adds that his own development plans have been frustrated by the megastudio. ‘There’s no incentive to build. Why build to compete with a city-subsidized studio?’

FilmPort officials declined to comment, pointing instead to a forthcoming announcement about their complex, which now has an early 2008 opening target date, moved from 2007.

Lukas hopes to see competition restored to the Port Lands area, and hopes some answers come from the city in the near future.

‘Competition is what I’ve thrived on – I’m not afraid of it,’ he says. ‘But the City of Toronto has been of no help. They’ve been a hindrance in the information flow.’

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at Showline, which will host the John Travolta-starring Hairspray in the fall. Showline’s Trinity facility is open and the company has not been given notice to vacate, but Lukas knows the facility ‘does have a certain life-expectancy’ in regards to the waterfront rejuvenation.

‘We’re in what’s considered zone four, the last zone to be touched,’ he explains.

Operators of nearby Cinespace echo Lukas’ frustration and uncertainty.

‘We’ve known for awhile they want to redevelop the [Port Lands] area,’ says VP Jim Mirkopoulos. ‘That’s why we’ve been seeking expansion lands from TEDCO for the last 10 years, but our every request was summarily dismissed. We have not yet received an eviction notice for our Marine Terminal studio facility, but we know that one is coming. We would love to relocate in the Port Lands, but the reality is that we will be gone and we’re seeking alternatives.’

The non-competition clause in the Port Lands has Cinespace, which is now hosting the Hollywood sci-fi flick Jumper, watching for information. But details are in short supply, and the latest news of a delay in the megastudio’s opening date was not warmly received.

‘It has to be business as usual [at Cinespace], but hearing about the delay makes us cringe. We love to compete, and [the city's] ill-conceived… non-competition clause is preventing real expansion of our industry,’ Mirkopoulos notes. ‘The delay means an extension of the non-competition period, and only ensures that there will be no future for us in the Port Lands.’