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MESA, AZ-An approval by the Mesa city council last Monday brought the development of Arizona’s first movie production studio closer to reality. The council’s blessing means that, except for one small snafu, developers could launch construction on the $70 million, 55-acre Gateway Studios in August 2010.

The snafu in question has to do with a state tax incentive for movie makers, which expires at the end of 2010. It must be renewed by the state’s legislature if the project is to get off the ground as scheduled. Otherwise, the project’s developer is ready to roll at the site, which is at the corner of Hawes and Germann Roads.

“We’re moving onto the planning and architectural stage for the project,” explains Vince Stark, who is CEO of project developer Gateway Studios LLC. He tells GlobeSt.com that the first phase will take two years to build out, and will consist of four sound stages, an auditorium and buildings to house support services and supply storage for the film-making activities anticipated to take place.

Stark, whose company CBC Inc. designs and builds luxury houses and religious facilities, acquired the acreage on which Gateway Studios will be built three years ago. At the time, he says, a motion picture studio wasn’t at the top of the list in terms of potential land use. “I knew it was a great location, near (Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport), and it had a lot of potential.”

When Stark and his crew were developing a home on the land of the former Apache Land Movie Studios about a year ago, things clicked. “I saw there wasn’t any film infrastructure in Arizona,” he explains. Most of the film jobs not going to Los Angeles were headed for New Mexico next door. But Phoenix is less than 400 miles east of Los Angeles, Stark reasoned, so why not build a studio complex? Stark then collected a team of designers and others who were familiar with building sound stages.

Stark says the team will own and operate half of the finished product, mainly the soundstages, while the remaining half, consisting of support buildings, will be privately owned. “What we’re doing is creating a sound stage community,” he comments. “It’s our hope to get a lot of the film business here that would normally go elsewhere.”

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