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AUSTIN-An Austin film group has signed a lease with the city to use 20 acres of the vacated Robert Mueller Municipal Airport for a new multi-media studio and production complex.

“In Austin, with the skyrocketing cost of real estate, these large, empty spaces are non-existent,” Suzanne Quinn, director of Austin Studios, told GlobeSt.com. The center will use six hangars and one existing office building at the 709-acre Mueller Airport to house production and post-production space and AFS offices. Austin Studios: Soundstages & Media Center is a nonprofit venture of the Austin Film Society.

The airport is situated in central Austin near East 51st Street. “The city leased this to us, as is,” says Quinn. “It is extremely functional and we didn’t have to make the initial investment.”

The agreement outlines a 10-year lease with a five-year option. Quinn explains that the lease allows Austin Studios to manage the space on the city’s behalf and to act as an agent to attract production companies and various disciplines of the film industry. Meanwhile, the city is the owner.

“The most unique aspect of this is the public-private partnership,” Quinn says. “It shows that the city recognizes the economic impact of the film industry in Austin.”

Austin Studios has already completed one commercial and has begun production with Sony Pictures on a feature film, “The New Guy,” since opening the studio doors Nov. 1. “We were able to hit the ground running,” says Quinn.

Last summer, Austin Studios had been negotiating the lease with the city while actress Sandra Bullock had used the site for the filming of “Miss Congeniality,” a film she produced.

Quinn says Austin Studios is seeking partners to share the space. The goal is to provide a complex where filmmakers can come and find all of the elements of production available to them.

“We’re putting out calls to local companies and companies in LA and New York,” says Quinn. And, she is in the midst of negotiating on a “couple of films” to bring to the new studio.

The multi-media complex also will serve as a vehicle for internships and apprenticeships to high school and college students interested in film industry careers. Quinn says the paid internships will enable more students to participate and ultimately become part of the skilled local workforce. Austin Studios is planning fundraisers to support paid apprenticeships that could begin as early as January 2001, according to Quinn.

Meanwhile, the city is developing a master plan to determine the best use for the remaining 689 acres at the former municipal airport, says David Matustik, the city public information manager. He says the possibilities include seeking a developer or setting up a city-run redevelopment for the mixed-use site.

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