Details reveal 'favourable' lease for Northern Ontario Film Studios with City of Greater Sudbury
Other film studios in Sudbury paying twice as much for one-tenth the space
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests show how much the Northern Ontario Film Studios is paying to lease an old arena from the City of Greater Sudbury.
And some in the local film business think the rates are so low, that it's keeping the industry from growing.
Northern Ontario Film Studios moved into the old Barrydowne Arena in 2012, and signed a lease with the city for $24,000 per year for the 20,000 square foot space.
It re-negotiated the lease in 2015 and the rate went down to $18,000 per year.
The CBC requested these figures in the spring of 2018 when the lease was up for renewal for a third time, but the city refused to release them.
CBC filed Freedom of Information requests and Northern Ontario Film Studios then appealed to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario to block the release of the documents.
Northern Ontario Film Studios abandoned its appeal in January, allowing the city to release the records.
The city's acting director of economic development, Meredith Armstrong, says the film studio is now paying month to month while the final details of a new lease agreement are worked out.
"This has been entered into very carefully," she says.
"It's definitely something that was discussed. How do we establish a rate? And that was not easy."
The Municipal Act forbids cities and towns from renting out public property at below market rates.
Armstrong says it was difficult to find a comparable price for the old arena and she says the improvements that Northern Ontario Film Studios has paid for factor into the lower rent, as does the millions of dollars in economic development the studio has helped bring to Sudbury.
"We're quite pleased with the return on this investment, so yes, they have a favourable rental rate, they've put in tens of thousands of dollars in leasehold improvements, they've fixed it up," she says.
David Anselmo, the head of strategic business development for Northern Ontario Film Studios, says his company has invested about $400,000 in the building.
"Given the state of the arena at that time, we were very skeptical to believe that it would work," he says.
"The amount of money we had to put into the building was a risk for us. We came up to what was feasible for all parties at the time."
The new lease agreement will see the annual rental payment go up 3 per cent every year, which Anselmo says shouldn't affect his business.
"There wasn't really a talk. The city said this is what we're planning to do and we agreed. It wasn't really overly thought out," he says.
However, others in Sudbury's film business think the "sweetheart deal" Northern Ontario Film Studios has is giving them an unfair advantage.
Photographer and cinematographer Gerry Kingsley runs Studio 98, not far from downtown Sudbury.
He says he's shot scenes for about half a dozen films in the 2,000 square foot studio he rents for $3,100 a month, which is about double what the city charges the Northern Ontario Film Studios for a much larger space.
"It's really disheartening for me when the city is effectively creating a monopoly, meanwhile we're paying top dollar for our space which is one-tenth the size," Kingsley says.
Sudbury filmmaker Ben Paquette raised concerns about the lease agreement last year and now that more details are known, he's calling on the city to instead create grants that would help a range of different film businesses.
He says it made sense to subsidize Northern Ontario Film Studios back in 2012, but with the company announcing multi-million dollar film deals, it's time to "take off the training wheels."
"At this point now it needs to be a level playing field, so there's not only one person in town," Paquette says.