It may not be what many people envisioned four years ago, but CT Studios has started construction just off of Ellington Road in South Windsor this week.
Only instead of beginning with one of the several studios or the construction mill that would be a part of the proposed sprawling production campus, the developer is starting off with a 600-square-foot security office building.
“They’re working,” said economic development consultant Craig Stevenson, who has worked on behalf of the developer throughout the project. “Admittedly, they’re baby steps, but despite all the adversity, including trying to obtain financing during the worst economic recession in human history, and despite all the challenges, we’ve always been moving the project forward.”
Stevenson also said that the developer is negotiating with the Charbonneau family regarding obtaining permission to start construction on two 75,000-square-foot sound stages and accompanying office space on an adjacent plot on Ellington Road and Chapel Road. CT Studios is in negotiations to purchase that piece of land and the family that owns it wanted an additional security deposit before allowing construction to begin, Stevenson said.
The additional security deposit should be paid and building permits would be obtained by the end of next week, according to Stevenson.
Finally, the developer has begun to create a new habitat for two grasshopper sparrows that nest on the land the town provided to CT Studios.
A new grassy knoll will be constructed at Wapping Park for the sparrows pursuant to a state mitigation plan, according to Stevenson.
Still, even with the construction having started and the latest developments concerning the Charbonneau property, several questions loom large over the $56.5 million project that includes the construction of several movie studios with sound stages, a mill for the building of sets, a hotel and commercial space to be built on 40 acres of land.
The first issue is whether constructing the security office satisfies the reverter clause that is contained in an agreement between the developer and the town of South Windsor for a 20-acre parcel that the town provided to CT Studios three years ago.
The deadline for reverter clause is Oct. 26.
“I don’t know if [the security office] meets the spirit or intent of the reverter clause,” Mayor Tom Delnicki said in a telephone interview. “I’m glad to see there’s been some action there, but still there is a lot more to be done.”
Town Councilor Cary Prague was even more blunt.
“I hope these guys don’t think by building a 400-square-foot building that they satisfy the reverter clause,” Prague said. “They have 10 days to prove they have the financing is in place to build the sound stages. I am very disappointed in what’s going on.”
At the Town Council meeting Monday, Delnicki proposed having a meeting with CT Studios on Oct. 22 to discuss some of the issues still outstanding.
Stevenson said that he had “every intention” of attending. He added, however, that he also did not want to “waste the council’s time” if he did not have anything additional to share with its members.
“I’m not sure [the developer] wants to have the discussion in public,” Stevenson said. “I’m not sure where we’ll be.”
What’s more, Stevenson said that building the security office was meant to initiate construction, not satisfy the town.
As for the small building meeting the requirements of the reverter clause, Stevenson said, “We’ll leave that to the attorneys to determine.”
All of which appears to set up a possible legal showdown between the town and the developer rather than the meeting taking place.
“The meeting only occur if they want to be there,” Delnicki said. “That meeting was an offer to CT Studios if they wanted to come to us on the whole issue of the reverter clause and where we go from here. We’re giving them an opportunity to reach out to the town and the council.”
“We put out the olive branch and they have to want to take it,” Prague added. “The ball has always been in their court. We would rather that they come to us with honesty and humility and tell us what exactly is going on.”
Even with the latest developments, Prague said that he was not optimistic that the CT Studios project will become a reality.
“They haven’t shown us they have financing,” Prague said. “I have little faith it will ever happen. In four years we have seen nothing to indicate it ever will happen.”
In addition, Town Councilor Keith Yagaloff said during Monday's meeting that there were still questions as to how the developer would pay for the $10 - 15 million in infrastructure - roads, electricity and sewers - that need to be built into the project.
At one time the town had a deal with the developer to abate taxes for a period of time, with the savings going to pay for the infrastructure. That deal has expired, according to Yagaloff.