Ted’s recent story about the town’s major construction projects shows that economic development is making a comeback in South Windsor. As a Town Councilor, I’ve seen good years and bad years. This year is shaping up to be a good one. FedEx on Sullivan Avenue is one of the town’s largest projects. Farmington Bank is a good sign because they are using South Windsor to launch their entry east of the river. Who would have thought our town could have so many banks? Hartford Hospital has an office building going up on Sullivan Avenue, and it looks like they want to compete with ECHN for outpatient services in standalone buildings. Community facilities are where a lot of health care is being delivered these days.
There are upscale apartments coming to Evergreen Walk, and a new condo complex on Pleasant Valley Road. Both projects started with some controversy but then gained the necessary local support. CREC is building a K-5 elementary school.
All of these projects are the bread and butter of the town’s economic development. Large and small, public and private, commercial and residential, this mix of development will provide growth in the grand list. These projects will provide badly needed tax revenue and jobs.
The other project in Ted’s story is the Connecticut Studios movie complex. I’ve learned a lot since this project was first proposed several years ago. Tax increment financing, special services tax districts, infrastructure easements, reverter clauses, and the economics of the movie studio industry. Connecticut Studios is proposing the construction of sound stages and other production facilities which would bring the film and TV industry to South Windsor. That would bring jobs and more jobs, first for the construction of the facilities and then for operating the movie studio business.
There are many movie studio proposals (and some completed studios) in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, because these states offer very generous movie and TV production tax credits. New Mexico was one of the first states offering tax credits, and a major studio was build there. However, they overbuilt, could not bring in enough business to pay their debt, and filed for bankruptcy. Some local business suffered large financial losses because of the bankruptcy, and several lenders lost millions of dollars.
Massachusetts just announced the start of site work on a $106 million New England Studios project and the beginning of making Massachusetts “Hollywood East.” There are already several small movie and TV production studios in Connecticut, nearly all of them being relatively close to New York City’s large talent pool of movie production employees.
What I’ve learned since this project was first proposed to the Town Council is that nearly everyone is enamored with the idea of making movies. Hardly anyone cares about how FedEx’s new state of the art distribution facility on Sullivan Avenue will do its sorting and separating of packages. Everyone cares about which movies will be made is South Windsor, where will the actors stay, will they be hiring extras, how big are the sound stages, and how many jobs will there be? The lure of movies and jobs has made this project different from the rest.
Town officials are being careful to make sure the project is viable and that all the financials are in place. A failed project can be much worse for the town than no project at all. And the proposal has changed over time, along with financing options. The latest twist is that the developers are planning to put up a solar farm in town and to use millions in federal tax incentives to help pay for the studio construction.
My preference is for the bread and butter projects, but I also understand the excitement of the movie making industry. One of the most important jobs for the Town Manager and Town Council is to bring to South Windsor a diverse mix of small, medium and large economic development projects, A movie studio in South Windsor would not only contribute in taxes and jobs, but also act as an economic development catalyst. Only time will tell whether the studio’s developers can put together a financial package that allows this project to get off the ground.