The infamous Connecticut Studios project has taken on a mysterious aura such that one South Windsor employee recently jokingly referred to it as “Bigfoot.”
Indeed, it’s been four years and two groundbreakings since what is now a $55 million, 73-acre project was first proposed in 2008, yet tangible progress has been difficult, if not impossible, to measure.
At the town council meeting on Monday, town officials and a studio representative outlined the latest updates for the project, which now includes a $25.8 million solar farm that will, according to the new plan, fund infrastructure improvements such as lighting, roads and sewers through a lease-purchase arrangement with the town.
The complicated arrangement would involve the creation of a 501(c)(3) entity by Connecticut Studios to allow the infrastructure to be constructed with bonds at an estimated rate of 2.8 percent, then leased back to the town. The town would pay for the lease through the revenue generated by the solar farm. At the end of the lease-purchase agreement, the infrastructure would revert back to the town.
This plan is in addition to the original project of several movie studios with sound stages, a mill for the construction of sets, a hotel and commercial space to be constructed on 40 acres of land.
The solar farm was added about a year ago to make the project more appealing to investors, according to Dan Marsh, senior director of the National Developers Council and financial advisor to the town.
But time is of the essence for Connecticut Studios LLC, the project’s developer, as it has to begin construction by this October, or the town council can, pursuant to a 2009 agreement in which town gives the developer 20 acres of land, effectively pull the plug on its portion of the deal.
The project has been delayed by a number of things, not least of which is Connecticut Studios LLC’s inability to secure financing for the deal, according to Marsh.
So far, the project, Marsh said, would be financed through loans from private lenders as well as through state tax credits and other sources.
The reactions to the new plan from town councilors ranged from hopeful to skeptical.
“The clock is ticking,” Mayor Tom Delnicki said. “We need something happening. Something is going to have to come together. … We need to see something.”
Councilor Cary Prague was even more blunt.
“I feel like it’s Groundhog Day,” said Prague, referring to the movie starring Bill Murray in which the lead character keeps waking up to the same day over and over again.
Yet, despite the skepticism, Anthony Del Vicario of Connecticut Studios insisted that the project was still alive and well.
“The whole purpose was to inform the town council that we have supplied 90 percent of everything that was asked by the underwriter for the bonds,” he said outside of council chambers.
If construction does not start by October, the town can back out of the deal or provide an extension.
Marsh said that it was possible to secure financing by then and have construction started.
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