Film complex builder no longer needs $40M city loan

The builders of a sound stage complex in the Greenbelt are no longer looking to the City of Ottawa for a significant loan to help complete the project.

Builders had sought financing help to get project built more quickly

Ottawa's finance and economic development committee agreed to give city staff delegated authority to line up a $40 million loan for a soundstage complex in the Greenbelt. The loan, however, is no longer necessary. (JL Richards and City of Ottawa)

The builders of a sound stage complex in the Greenbelt are no longer looking to the City of Ottawa for a loan of up to $40 million to help complete the project.

The Ottawa Film Office and its partner TriBro Studios both informed the city in early July that the money wouldn't be needed, according to a city memo sent Thursday.

Back in March, the non-profit film office and Toronto-based private developer had gone to the city's finance and economic development committee (FEDCo) looking for the long-term loan.

The film office is leasing land near Woodroffe Avenue and West Hunt Club Road from the National Capital Commission, and plans to sublease that land to TriBro Studios, which will build and run four sound stages, workshops and offices for local companies.

They argued the creative campus, which has been planned for a couple of years now, would be built more quickly if the City of Ottawa gave the film office a 30-year loan of up to $40 million.

Ottawa could also respond more quickly to demands to shoot big-budget dramatic series and other productions, they said.

TriBro's parent company, Triple Group of Companies, was set to guarantee the principal and interest payments, but its own money was tied up in other projects, such as a giant casino, waterpark, hotel and film studio complex in Pickering, Ont.

Members of Ottawa's finance committee approved the loan unanimously in early March, but then the COVID-19 shutdown began and the file never went before full city council for final approval.

TriBro letter expresses frustration

Now the agreement is no longer needed, wrote Stephen Willis, the city's general manager of planning, infrastructure and economic development, in Thursday's memo.

"[The film office] advised that the previous advantages to obtaining loan financing from the city (competitive interest rate and ability to start the project quicker) are no longer relevant given the impacts of COVID-19 on both the prevailing interest rates and the project timelines," he wrote.

TriBro Studios's financial obligations on other projects are no longer an issue, said president Peter Apostolopoulos in his letter to the city. But his letter also suggests frustration that the loan discussion at FEDCo was postponed several times, affecting lease negotiations with the NCC and slowing planning, only to see COVID-19 hit.

TriBro president Peter Apostolopoulos, seen here in March 2020, has said the film complex will be ready to open sometime in 2021, according to Thursday's memo. (Kate Porter/CBC)

"We have since decided that it would be prudent of my company (TriBro) to decline any financing from the City of Ottawa, leaving us unencumbered should the city require these monies for assistance in the fight against COVID-19 in the City of Ottawa by those who really need it," Apostolopoulos wrote on July 10.

The city clarified to CBC News that any loan to the film office would have been funded by a bank loan and not from tax revenues, so would not have affected its budget or pandemic response. It also said two months were spent having Ernst and Young confirm the Ottawa Film Office's business case was indeed sound.

Willis's memo said the company intends to have the sound stages ready to open by the end of 2021, but the letter from Apostolopoulos gave no mention of a timeline, only that he remained "committed to continue moving forward on the
construction of TriBro Studios Ottawa."

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