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Malahat Nation, production company announce plans for film studios

The 85-acre Mill Bay site could have as many as six sound stages up to 36,000 square feet each and several production workshops as well as a commercial complex with a hotel

The Malahat Nation and a Victoria ­production company unveiled plans Friday to start a major film studio complex on the First Nation’s land at Mill Bay.

The 85-acre site could see as many as six sound stages of up to 36,000 square feet each and several production workshops, as well as a commercial complex with a hotel and other services that could feed and house movie crews.

Beverley Dondale, chief executive of Victoria-based Alpha Select Production Services, said sound stages would allow the south Island to attract Hollywood movies with $200-million range budgets.

She said the region is already in demand for outdoor location shooting, but major ­productions need sound stages for indoor sets and production facilities to complete films in a “one-stop shop that brings all the people and equipment together.”

Currently, the Island’s only sound stages are near Parksville, where ­Vancouver Island Film Studios has six sound stages that are usually booked years in advance.

At a news conference at Brentwood College on Friday, Dondale said construction of the $72-million initial phase, which includes two production offices, a film workshop, two double sound stages and a back lot, could begin in 2025. She said discussions are taking place with investors to finalize funding.

The overall studio complex plan would cost about $250 million over several years, said Dondale.

Future plans include a water-tank feature, currently not available in any Canadian sound stage, but coveted by producers making movies that have anything to do with water.

Proponents have said the complex could create 1,500 jobs in the industry. The project would be built out in three phases “so we can build the infrastructure and the industry as we go along,” said Dondale.

Josh Handysides, chief administrative officer for the Malahat Nation, said as land partner in the project, the nation is ­starting work on major infrastructure this year, including water, wastewater, telecommunications, power and roads on the 85-acre site and surrounding areas.

“We’ve done a lot behind the scenes to advance all the ­components needed for the project to move forward,” said Handysides, adding there is room to expand the studio complex area to 135 acres to support the film industry “on a wider scale.”

Maple Reinders Constructors Ltd., the company building the new Royal B.C. Museum ­Collections Building in Colwood, is developing the site for the Malahat.

Outgoing film commissioner Kathleen Gilbert said the South Vancouver Island Film ­Commission does a booming business in films, but it’s mostly contained to smaller productions because of the lack of sound stages.

She called sound stages “game changers” that could take the region from films with ­budgets of $1 million to $10 million to those in the $20-million to $200-million range and higher.

Sound stages are massive, open buildings with 12-metre-high ceilings where any kind of scene can be created. Greater Victoria has had to make do with old warehouses and, in the case of the $30-million Netflix ­production Maid, the empty Home Outfitters store in ­Tillicum mall.

Handysides said the film-­studio project would produce revenue from the studios, hotel and industrial park, while ­providing training and jobs.

“One of the big things that really sold us on the film ­industry is it isn’t just one employer, one type of job — it’s a whole ecosystem of ­entry-level and training jobs all the way up to professional jobs,” said Handysides. “We’re really ­building a town here. We want to have the employment, the housing and everything a thriving community needs to have.

Dondale said the studio will be built as a carbon-neutral, ­net-zero-waste facility, working with local companies to provide ways to divert waste from the landfill and recycle and reuse items that are no longer needed for a ­specific production, including sets and wardrobes.

Other major sound-stage developments are planned for the capital region, but both are in limbo.

Camosun College’s plans for film studios, sound stages and related classrooms at its ­Interurban campus seemed to be progressing last ­February when it started ­discussions with a Toronto-based ­company to design, build and fund the ­project in exchange for a 99-year lease.

Visionary Education ­Technology Holdings Group Inc., a private education provider and real estate developer, had been selected to help turn plans for an on-campus film studio with ­education components into a reality, but those talks have since been terminated.

In a statement on Friday, Camosun said the relationship with the previous proponent “was ended by the college for a number of reasons.” ­However, the college said it is continuing to explore “potential ­opportunities for a film studio” on the five-acre parcel on its Interurban campus.

A proposal for sound stages in Langford is also in the works. Bastion Developments and Strand, the company behind Langford Heights on the former Western Speedway lands, has plans to build a 40,000-square-foot sound stage.

The company said nothing has started yet. A statement on Friday said it has initiated a request for proposals for qualified film operators to lease the space.

Last fall, the company and Langford city staff sent the South Vancouver Island Film Commission to Los Angeles to meet with studio executives, “which fostered valuable connections and insights.”

Meanwhile, the ­Malahat Nation announced last month a 100,000-square-foot facility to build battery storage energy systems in a 52-acre business park on reserve land close to the film-studio lands.

The Malahat Nation is building the structure, while Vancouver-based Energy Plug is expected to fund the build-out of the facility’s internal systems and departments. The plant is expected to be running by the first quarter of 2025.

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