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Commissioners asked to support movie studio financing

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowoski@henryherald.com

While Henry County commissioners wait for a third-party audit of a proposal for a movie studio at Tara Field, one retired businesswoman called on them Monday to back the proposal.

"When speaking to people, I heard two things over and over," said Kristin Crumpler, a former tanning salon owner. "One was, 'It's a no-brainer,' and the other was, 'We need this.'"

Billy Abbate, managing partner of Big 5 Enterprises LLC and Atlanta Film Studios LLC, recently asked commissioners to back the use of industrial revenue bonds to build movie sets in six hangars located along one side of Tara Field.

"The movie studio project is based on a request to have the Board of Commissioners pledge some yet-to-be-determined amount of millage to back any financing for the intended project," explained Julie Hoover-Ernst, county communications director.

"Consequently, their [Big 5's] efforts to obtain financing for this project will be 'enhanced' as a result of the county's pledge, possibly in the form of a better interest rate, or other improved financing terms," Hoover-Ernst said. "While the Henry County Development Authority has voted to induce the bonds, without the Board of Commissioners' backing, they would not be able to get such favorable terms."

The commissioners listened to Crumpler's remarks, but later said they remain cautious about the financing. Crumpler, who said she is a personal friend of Abbate, read from a prepared statement, telling the commissioners the project would benefit the local economy.

"Much of Georgia, and especially counties like Henry, are ground zero for this great recession," said Crumpler. "Our bank closures, unemployment, and foreclosure rates are higher than almost anywhere else in the country. If our local businesses are not made healthy again, it will mean more job loss with those very business owners seeking jobs that may not be available."

Crumpler said she supports financing of the studio project using "credit enhancement."

"It is for backing of Industrial Revenue Bonds," she said. "It is not taxpayer dollars, and it is not funds from the county's budget. They are county-issued bonds, borrowed and repaid by Atlanta Film Studios or Big 5 Enterprises," she added.

Crumpler said she started an online petition, and there are more than 300 signatures (of people) asking for the studios. She urged other residents to voice their opinions on the web site identified as www.filmstudiosforhenry.com.

"Mr. Abbate has created preferred vendors that are in Henry County, and the production companies will be required to spend a certain amount of every dollar within our community," Crumpler said.

Crumpler's comments failed to move commissioners from the position they already have adopted. Three of Henry's six commissioners continued to voice reservations about the financing. The scope of the project is large, and many decisions still need to be made, said District II Commissioner Rick Jeffares.

"I'm still excited about the project, no doubt," said Jeffares, who represents the area where the proposed movie studio would be located. "As far as the financing, I'm still a little up in the air about it. They [Atlanta Film Studios] are supposed to be getting us some contracts. When we see that, it may change our minds on how we're looking at it."

"There's still a lot to be discussed on it," said District IV Commissioner Reid Bowman. "The bottom line is, it's not a slam dunk. If the county does a bond, the county's responsible."

District I Commissioner Warren Holder said he disagrees with Crumpler's assessment that the project poses little risk for taxpayers. "When we talk about slight, or no risk to taxpayers in Henry County, I do not believe that," said Holder. "If they could show me that, I'd say go for it tomorrow."

Holder said if Abbate's business plan should fail, the county -- and taxpayers -- stand to be held financially liable.