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New Film and TV Studio Breaks Ground in Athens

A rendering of Athena Studios.

Since passing tax credits in 2008, film and television has become a $4 billion industry in Georgia, with the number of productions annually surpassing even California. But metro Atlanta has reaped most of the benefit. 

Sure, Athens has seen film and TV crews shoot a scene or two here and there, but rarely is an entire production based in Athens. With a large new studio planned halfway between downtown and Winterville, productions that might once have gone to Savannah or one of the many studios in the Atlanta area will be able to set up shop in Athens.

Athens native and University of Georgia graduate Joel Harber, president of commercial and real estate development and brokerage firm Reynolds Capital, is working with local developer Tim Burgess, local architects Koons Environmental Design and E+E Architecture, and UGA’s film studies program, among others, to build a 45-acre, 350,000 square foot studio in an industrial area off Athena Drive.

“Watching such tremendous growth in the film industry over the past eight years has been great, but we haven’t really seen entire productions filmed in Athens,” Harber said. “Not having a proper sound stage space has really kept our area from reaching its full potential.” 

Although some grading has already taken place, a groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday. Harber said the first phase of Athena Studios will be finished next November, and the entire project will be complete in two years. It will include sound stages, support buildings, offices and educational facilities.

Having a studio in Athens is key because it means productions can do everything from script writing to editing and CGI in Athens, rather than just dipping in for a day or two to film a scene, said Jeff Montgomery, Athens-Clarke County’s public information officer and government liaison for the film and TV industry. Spending too much time in Athens can get expensive for Atlanta-based productions because union rules require paying crew members a per diem for traveling outside a 30-mile radius. Currently, the closest studios to Athens are in Norcross and Covington.

“One of the exciting things is, productions can come in and use this as a home base and do a lot more here,” Montgomery said. “It’s been location stuff. This allows a lot more opportunity and flexibility.”

Athena Studios will create “hundreds” of jobs, Harber said. Just how many is unconfirmed. ACC didn’t do an economic analysis for the project because it didn’t request any tax incentives, said Economic Development Director Ilka McConnell. But it will support locals who work in the industry—many of whom now commute to Atlanta for jobs—as well as restaurants, caterers, hotels and retailers, McConnell and Harber said.