Finance committee approves $40M loan to get Ottawa sound stages off the ground

soundstage
A rendering of the forthcoming film and tv hub, via the Ottawa Film Office.

A proposed film hub that would bring four state-of-the-art sound stages to Ottawa’s west end has moved another step closer to reality after a city committee approved a $40-million loan to get the project off the ground.

The finance and economic development committee gave the green light Monday to a 30-year loan to the Ottawa Film Office, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the city’s film industry. The city itself would need to borrow the money it's loaning to the film office.

The money would finance the construction of four proposed 20,000-square-foot sound stages and a “creative hub” that would also include 25,000 square feet of workshop space and 50,000 square feet of production facilities and co-working space for film, television and animation studios. 

Toronto-based TriBro Studios would run the campus, which will be located on the 8.4-hectare former site of the National Capital Commission’s Greenbelt Research Farm on Woodroffe Avenue across from the Nepean Sportsplex. 

In a report to the committee, city staff said TriBro, which has operated a 200,000-square-foot sound stage in Toronto since 2014, is currently developing a multibillion-dollar entertainment complex in Pickering called Durham Live and can’t finance the Ottawa project on its own. 

Staff warned that the local sound stage plan could be delayed by up to three years if the loan is not approved, resulting in a loss of more than $100 million in potential economic spinoffs and about $400,000 a year in municipal property taxes.

Under the proposed agreement, the Ottawa Film Office will lease the land for the production hub from the NCC for a term of 66 years, with the possibility of a 33-year extension. The film office will sublease the facility to TriBro and could receive a cut of production revenues, and the Toronto firm will have the option of acquiring the complex for a nominal fee once the loan from the city is fully repaid.

TriBro will be responsible for all operating costs and will rent the sound stages to production companies. Its parent company, Triple Group, must guarantee all loan principal and interest payments and will be required to provide a $10-million letter of credit.

Film commissioner Bruce Harvey told the committee that film and TV productions generated a record $28.5 million a year in local economic activity last year, thanks mostly to TV movie shoots that have made Ottawa the “Christmas movie capital” of North America. Including animated productions, the sector contributes about $100 million a year to the local economy.

But at the same time budgets for TV movies are gradually dwindling, Harvey said, the likes of Netflix are now spending upwards of $10 million an episode on dramatic series such as the Crown. Harvey said Ottawa is missing out on projects of that magnitude because it doesn’t have an indoor shooting venue with proper acoustics, ceiling clearances and tech such as green screens that allows for fancy special effects.

“This is an amazing growth opportunity for us,” he said, estimating that just one major TV series could pump $40 million a year into the city’s economy and create more than 400 new full-time jobs.

Harvey said if Ottawa doesn’t act quickly, other Ontario cities that are also eyeing sound stages, including Hamilton and Sudbury, could beat us to the punch.

“This is the time to do it right now,” he told the committee.

Mayor Jim Watson also urged the committee to approve the loan, calling the proposed film hub the “missing piece of the puzzle” to grow the local industry.

Full council will consider the loan proposal on March 25. If the financing is approved and the NCC signs off on the lease, Harvey said construction could get under way as soon as this summer and the facility could be open for business by the fall of 2021.