American film studios eye $800m south Auckland project, Richlister family sells sites

29 May 2020 10:40 AM | Mike Hearn (Administrator)

Two American film studios are eyeing south Auckland sites at an $800 million land development project being sold by the richlister Stevenson family.

Stephen Hughes, chief executive of the 362ha Drury South Crossing development, said the United States-based businesses had shown an interest in the location which he said were suitable for their requirements to build vast new production studios.

"They'd make movies there. They've been looking at options in the Auckland area," Hughes said, adding the studios had been introduced to the project he runs via real estate agents they had contacted here.

"My understand is that they need large warehouse-type facilities to build their sets and also potentially there's the benefit in being close to various locations," he said, referring to rural ranges as well as staff, contractors and Auckland Airport. "They need it to be accessible."

New Zealand offers generous tax breaks for money spent on big Hollywood productions.

Amazon Studios was making The Lord of The Rings television series in New Zealand before the pandemic when production was interrupted. That US studios was filming in Auckland, arriving after months of discussions with the Government, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development and the New Zealand Film Commission.

After a post-Lord Of The Rings lull, our film studios had been beset by American streaming platforms and silver screen production companies, mostly making fantasy and sci-fi.

But the pandemic has had a big effect on production and the Herald has also reported how the once-sunny $3.2 billion screen sector, which provided nearly 30,000 jobs here, was suddenly in the grip of its longest winter.

Fallout from Covid-19 had suspended big-ticket international productions indefinitely and forced our suddenly-amputated local industry to grapple with filming in an age of social distancing.

Yet Hughes remains confident about possible land sales to the US studios and other businesses.

"You could possibly end up with more than one film studio at Drury. These were inquiries made before the Covid-19 environment and the challenge is how we can safely enable them to get here."

Others to buy sites at the land development were food supply businesses, local engineering manufacturers, importers, logistics and warehouse businesses, Hughes said. But he refused to name one, saying all deals were subject to confidentiality agreements.

So far, around 35ha of sites have been sold for more than $100m, he said.

The National Business Review this year estimated the Stevenson family had a $350m fortune from construction and property. It noted the group's most recent large project is the Drury South Crossing, an $800m, 361ha business park development, building on the land, between the Drury quarry and the Southern Motorway.

Hughes said a two-lane bridge of about 100m had cost $10m to build and was fully funded by Drury South Crossing. That traversed the Hingaia stream.

The project is near the Drury Quarry, owned and operated by the family-owned Stevenson Group since 1939 but sold recently to Fulton Hogan. Drury South Crossing project does not involve expanding the quarry zone.

Hughes said about 6000 people could work on the land once it was developed. The first building is due to rise there next year and international investors are being lured.

"There are relatively few sites left in the Auckland region which can accommodate this scale of operation and it has been encouraging to see that local and international businesses are looking to invest at this level which will be an essential part of the region's economic recovery," Hughes said today.

Hughes said a clear re-entry pathway into the country was needed for multinational businesses and he sees the pandemic as an opportunity.

"This is one of the few times in our history where our geographic isolation is a clear competitive advantage and we are going to need more than international students and tourists to restart the economy," he said.

"As a nation we need to create new infrastructure and manufacturing opportunities to provide New Zealanders with some control and certainty over their future. We have multinational executives queuing at the country's door to develop new operations and jobs here. Unfortunately, there is only so much we can do over email and Zoom calls before they need to physically visit the site of their future investment," he said.

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By: Anne Gibson
Property editor, NZ Herald