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Proponents advocate for $35M film studio in Greater Sudbury

Cultural Industries Ontario North is working to get a 116,000-square-foot film studio off the ground in Greater Sudbury, and met with city council on Tuesday to share their proposal, clarifying they are not currently asking for any money or assistance but might in the future
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A conceptual drawing of Freshwater Production Studios, which is planned as a 116,000-square-foot film studio constructed on a 24-acre lot in Greater Sudbury.

Pledging to bring a higher-tier of film and television production to Greater Sudbury, Cultural Industries Ontario North is promoting plans for a $35-million film studio in the city.

Called Freshwater Production Studios, the facility is slated for construction at the now-cancelled Kingsway Entertainment District site on The Kingsway. It’s to be 116,000-square feet in size and include three soundstages, offices and other ancillary spaces for film and television productions. 

The studio has been proposed by the not-for-profit Cultural Industries Ontario North (CION), which was represented by executive director Tammy Frick and CEI Management lead consultant Edith Myers during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

They spoke at the invitation of Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, and clarified during the meeting they are not currently seeking municipal funding. 

That could change, however, with a motion passed unanimously by city council asking staff to prepare an analysis of the proposal for council’s consideration alongside research on other film studios’ relationships with municipal governments for a report by the end of the year.

“It understands the role that municipal governments have played in the creation or operation of film studios in other Canadian cities, so what is the standard across the country and the industry?” Jakubo asked his colleagues while describing his motion’s intent.

Frick asked Jakubo to sit on an ad-hoc committee for the proposed studio more than a year ago, which the councillor told Sudbury.com he was happy to do.

“I could see the massive economic impact that filming already has in our community, and this project has amazing potential to grow this exponentially,” he said. “Any time someone wants to talk about serious job growth for our city, I’m in.”

In their presentation to city council, Frick and Myers estimated the new studio would create 1,384 jobs by the fifth year and contribute $60 million in new revenue for local businesses. 

“These are not just any jobs, they are cool jobs where especially our youth can get great work experience,” Jakubo told Sudbury.com. 

During their impassioned presentation, Myers highlighted these jobs as good-paying with an average salary of more than $60,000 and plenty of room for upward mobility.

“If you’re smart, you’re a go-getter, you’ll move up in this world and make a really good career,” Myers said.

With the Greater Sudbury Airport nearby, plenty of land to operate and an existing film sector in the area, she said the Nickel City is a prime location for Freshwater Production Studios to set up shop.

“When someone first told me they’re going to put a film studio in Sudbury I was pretty skeptical, but I’ve become a firm believer in this project and the timing is right for Sudbury and the north to have a facility like this,” she said. 

While other film studios have been announced in Northern Ontario as retrofits of existing buildings, including those in North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, she said the studio they’ve proposed for Greater Sudbury will be a purpose-built facility.

“Having a purpose-built studio is going to be more of a pull,” she said. “It really does provide the means by which production can happen, and it’s really important as things get more complicated.”

Top-tier productions for television shows such as “Star Trek Discovery,” currently filmed in Toronto, require purpose-built facilities, and Myers noted production staff will have much less of a traffic issue in Greater Sudbury than they currently experience down south.

A centrally located studio in Greater Sudbury would serve productions throughout Northern Ontario, Frick said, adding that a “purpose-built facility is very different from a retrofit facility.”

“A film shooting area can have 1,000 people working on it and wires are running all over the place … and there’s a lot of power running through those wires, and that can be very dangerous if the power supply isn’t adequate,” Myers said, adding a purpose-built facility will have this capacity.

With plenty of parking at the planned 24-acre site on The Kingsway and a proposal to have the studio accompanied by a film equipment rental company, she said it’s a prime location to host the region’s filming hub.

In a report by city administration, it’s noted there were 141 film/television productions in Greater Sudbury between 2012 and 2021, during which $200 million was spent locally (approximately half of their total budgets) and 3,725 local crew were hired.

“A recent study conducted by Nordicity indicated that demand for studio space will outpace supply in the next several years,” according to the report.

“Greater Sudbury is home to a qualified local crew base, making up half of the estimated crew working across the north. While their residence may be in the city, these people will often travel across the region to work on contract for film projects.”

The city moving forward with investigating a potential partnership with Freshwater Production Studios comes off the heels of the city approving a three-year lease of pad No. 1 of the Capreol Arena for use as a film studio for the companies behind the television series’ Letterkenny and Shoresy. 

The Northern Ontario Film Studios also operates in Greater Sudbury, and have taken residence in the former Barrydowne Arena since 2012 on repeated three-year leases with the city. BRB Studio in Coniston has more than 3,200 square feet of studio space and caters to smaller productions.

A video featuring a conceptual rendition of the Freshwater Production Studios facility being proposed can be viewed by clicking here.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.