Lake City’s City Manager Joel Lanken (left) listens Friday as Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott explains plans for the University Station development that is partially in Lake City.
MORROW A proposed movie soundstage designed to bring stars to Clayton County could be the catalyst needed to get a long-dormant development off the ground.
The development, once known as Gateway Village, was originally intended to house a conference center, resort hotel and a golf course. More recently, it was to be home to a business class hotel and a hub for genealogy-related business because it is located across Hwy. 54 from the national and state archives.
But the newly renamed development will now have a balance of different aspects. County officials still plan to attract a business-class hotel and make genealogy tourism a key component of the development, but they hope to add hubs for business incubation and area filmmakers.
That diversification of University Station is what Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott believes will make it a success, after years of planning with little physical progress at the site.
“You’ve got to diversify and prove you’re not a one-pony town,” Wainscott said.
A key to the revamping of University Station will be the former Ingles grocery store on Hwy. 54. The old storefront was separate from Gateway Village for years, but it was merged into the development in recent months.
Wainscott and his staff are planning to renovate it to be a center of filmmaking activity for Clayton County.
The old grocery store sat vacant for a decade, but served as a temporary soundstage last fall for some scenes involving Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen from the upcoming Scary Movie 5. Plans call for much of the store to be renovated into a permanent 60,000-square foot film soundstage, with a screening room for independent filmmakers and business space for the county’s film office.
Wainscott said film scouts and agents have expressed interest in getting office space in University Station.
“We’re still learning what we need to do,” Wainscott said. “We’re taking advice from the state’s film office, from trade associations and from production companies and filmmakers to see what they need from us.
“We need to be responsive to the industry and what the industry is looking for.”
But, creating a hub for film productions at University Station may have a ripple effect that reaches beyond the development’s borders. Wainscott explained that’s because businesses that provide tools and services needed for film productions might be interested in relocating to the surrounding areas in Forest Park, Lake City and Morrow.
Those businesses could range from catering services, to hardware stores. Joel Lanken, the city manager for Lake City, said that is something that could benefit the three cities located on that stretch of Hwy. 54.
“It’s going to impact this entire tri-city area by having a residual effect on the businesses around it,” Lanken said.
Economic Development, Chamber of Commerce under one roof?
In addition to the film industry, talks are under way to bring what Clayton County chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford called a “one-stop shop” for business development at University Station.
She and Wainscott said the talks are still in the early stages, but they confirmed discussions have taken place to house the economic development department, Chamber of Commerce, Clayton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Clayton State University’s Small Business Development Center in one four-story building at the site.
Wainscott said the facility would be a place where prospective businesses could come to meet with county officials and “see Clayton County is serious about economic development.”
Beauford said the chamber of commerce is committed to staying in its current location on Mount Zion Road — at least until the end of its lease, which is approximately a year away. However, she said the group is open to listening to county officials about making a move to University Station after the lease ends.
“We’re very optimistic about the potential at University Station, and when you think about it, it just makes perfect sense to have all of us together in one location,” Beauford said. “But, it’s just in the very early discussion stages right now.”