City, investors reach agreement for film studio at South Portland armory

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The on-again, off-again effort to bring a film production studio to the former Maine Army National Guard Armory is officially on again.

Although neither side would release details, representatives of both the city and the sound-stage investors said they have successfully resolved their differences.

“I believe we now have a tentative agreement, with final approval before the council sometime in May,” Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis said.

The City Council on Monday met in executive session for about two hours with Cape Elizabeth resident Eric Matheson, a film-industry technician with more than 40 years in the business, who leads the investors.

His group would like to film movies, television shows and commercials in the Broadway building, which would also house other industry-related professionals and businesses.

Matheson, who previously expressed concerns over the city’s “final” offer, said he presented the council with a counter-offer. He said on Tuesday that all of the outstanding issues were resolved in Monday’s two-hour meeting.

“I can’t reveal the exact time frame or other details at this stage,” Matheson said in an email. “But suffice it to say that ‘Fore River Sound Stages’ will in fact become a (reality) this year.”

City Manager Jim Gailey said the two sides addressed about a dozen issues on Monday and agreed on a lease that would give the investors an option to buy the building.

“Other than that it was a fine-tuning of the lease language,” Gailey said.

Matheson, whose more than 84 film technical credits include “Empire Falls,” “Ironweed,” “Crocodile Dundee II” and “Cider House Rules,” said he is confident the sound stage will be operating sometime this year.

But this is not the first time both sides have sounded optimistic.

Last spring, the city said the armory deal was 95-percent complete. And one city councilor predicted the agreement would be signed by last July.

But securing the remaining 5 percent of that deal has proved elusive over the last 10 months.

Negotiations seemed to reach an impasse in late February, when councilors said they were presenting the investors with their final offer.

At that time, the mayor said she was ready to look for other opportunities, while investors said they were exploring moving their project to Scarborough.

The city purchased the Armory for $650,000 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2006. Since then, the city has invested little money into the crumbling structure, which has been used mostly for storage by the public safety and public works departments.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follwo him on Twitter: @randybillings

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South Portland has reached a tentative agreement with a group of investors who hope to bring a film production sound stage to the the former National Guard Armory on Broadway, pictured here in October 2008.