Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lakewood's second chance

Posted By on Tue, May 18, 2010 at 6:53 PM

click to enlarge ONE MORE TAKE: Vacant and historic Lakewood Fairgrounds could become Hollywood backlot.
  • ONE MORE TAKE: Vacant and historic Lakewood Fairgrounds could become Hollywood backlot.

Over the past 30 years, Bob Shelley has heard more than his share of aborted plans to redevelop the historic Lakewood Fairgrounds into something grand.

Among them: a new home for Zoo Atlanta, a charter school and even a mini-city along the lines of Atlantic Station. Drive by the familiar buildings on a hilltop overlooking the adjacent amphitheater and expansive parking lot, however, and you'll see that none have come to fruition.

"When you hear that over and over and over, you say you'll believe it when you see it," says Shelley, who maintains a prop-filled special effects studio inside one of Lakewood's 94-year-old exhibit halls. A veteran of Georgia film productions, his office walls are adorned with autographed photos of movie stars.

But now Shelley is a believer in the latest proposal for 30 of the expansive property's 117 acres, including the familiar Spanish Mission Revival-style exhibit halls that have fallen into disrepair.

Last week, the city announced it had edged out other cities and negotiated a 50-year lease with EUE/Screen Gems, a New York company that operates state-of-the-art soundstages and production facilities, that would transform the dilapidated area into a multimillion-dollar backlot of Hollywood proportions.

City officials are giddy at the thought of 1,000 new jobs during one of the country's deepest recessions and filling the property, which it's struggled to do for years. Lakewood Heights residents and businesses are aglow at the thought of a round-the-clock, year-round industry that would bring work, investment and new residents to the area. And film industry insiders say it's the final piece in Georgia's puzzle that will bring millions in investment and add prestige to the city's growing reputation as a go-to spot to make movies.

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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