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Slow going for St Thomas film park

Published:Monday | April 13, 2015 | 3:46 PMDaraine Luton

When Industry Minister Anthony Hylton spoke in the Sectoral Debate last year, he announced that the old Goodyear factory near Morant Bay, St Thomas, would be converted into a film park.

Nearly one year later, the old factory still lies idle. The zoom lenses that were expected to be sliding as a result of the works of Reelvibez Studios have been static, and there are no signs of flashing lights at the property. In fact, the much-heralded film park has not got off the ground, but Kaiel Eytle, Reelvibez's chief creative officer, is insistent the plan is not stillborn.

"When the project was initially announced it was real early in the process. We were just getting the concept together," Eytle told The Gleaner.

"I am just asking people to be patient because it is a massive, massive project," he added.

Eytle claims that the film park is to become the largest of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean, a factor which he said makes executing the project more demanding.

"There are a lot of moving parts that we are looking to coordinate and get into place, and we have to be able to guarantee to people who are putting money into the project that there is a solid plan in place. There are clear milestones that we are hitting, and in terms of actual bottom line, at the end of the day, we can show them that we are able to bring in that kind of money," he added.

Businessman David Mullings, one of the partners in the project, said last year that the vision was to transform the old Goodyear factory into a world-class facility that would allow Hollywood-level productions to shoot entirely in Jamaica.

Eytle said last year that the Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ) was in discussions with Reelvibez for the lease of the factory and the 24-acre property on which it sits. Yesterday, Eytle said both entities have reached an agreement, in principle, but are yet to put pen to paper.

"We will be leasing it for at least 25 years, and with the success of the project, we are looking to extend it even further. They are not doing a handover of land until we are 100 per cent of financing. We are involved with our potential investors right now. Our intention is to secure this funding before the end of the year so that we can start construction early next year," Eytle said.

seeking funding

In addition, the chief creative officer said the entire scope of the project is being revised and that multilaterals are being approached to provide funding for the film park.

"We had to readjust what we were doing last year ... . We have actually changed how we do a lot of stuff and we are also including a lot of international partners in terms of the functionality of the facility," Eytle said

Mullings has said that it will take approximately US$15 million to undertake the venture. Eytle said that with the readjustment, the team is now "trying to work out the mix of funding, which will be a mix of private equity and financing for multilaterals".

"We are moving ahead; we are getting the first stage of designing done. We are working with the potential investors, to bring the presentation and do all the due diligence on the presentations given to them to ensure that they are comfortable with the potential for the facility. We are working with them, almost directly, to develop the proposal until we get to a point we are comfortable with," Eytle said.

And even as Reelvibez Studios seeks to move the idea beyond concept and take it to fruition, Eytle said he understands just how much the people of St Thomas are looking forward to the film park in their backyard.

"It is a big deal for the people of St Thomas. We have spoken to a lot of people. My neighbour is from there and he asks me about it every time he sees me. I am not going to back out on the people of St Thomas. ... It is a good location. Things are going to start happening out there and we hope to be a major part of that," he said.