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South Bronx Movie Studio Expansion Angles to Open Up Waterfront — and Fence It In

York Studios, which opened its Michaelangelo Campus for film and TV shoots in 2019, wants to add a second studio with a 60-foot ceiling.

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York Studios’ Michaelangelo Campus

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

York Studios is seeking approval to add a 181,278 square foot building with a 60-foot ceiling to its Michaelangelo Campus, a 5-acre motion picture and television production facility in the South Bronx.

If it is ultimately approved, the expansion would open up to the public an acre of Bronx River waterfront on its property that’s adjacent to Soundview Park — but that area would be fenced-off and closed from dusk to dawn. 

Construction of the new studio would begin the second and final phase of the campus, which opened just north of Soundview Park in 2019 on a lot at 1400 Story Ave that had been vacant for 20 years. The campus — which offers “a private gated complex with 24/7 security” — sits in front of an industrial block of towing and storage businesses on Bronx River Avenue and is next door to a building housing the public Bronx Arena High School and the Bronx Charter School for the Arts. 

The expansion would help draw big productions, CEO John Battista testified at a virtual public hearing last Thursday that was led by Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson’s office. Movies including John Wick and The Amazing Spiderman 2 and shows including Elementary have been shot at York Studio’s 40,000 square-foot building on its campus in Maspeth, Queens, that opened in 2012. 

“More and more as productions grow and they are larger, they are looking to build a two-story set,” said Battista, noting that big-budget movies “always need height and width.” He said that the 30-foot ceiling and lighting grid that gets dropped down from it in the campus’ current building in the Bronx leaves relatively little room for production crews to navigate camera positions or special effects. 

“By allowing us to go that extra distance with the height that now enables productions to build a two story set, bring in special effects equipment, and use them while they’re filming” he said.

While the hearing was open to the public, all of the questions came from two planners with the borough president’s office, who pushed back on the idea of fencing off the waterfront. 

York Studio’s expansion plan for its Michaelangelo Campus

Rendering Via York Studios Presentation to Bronx Borough President’s office

The expansion plan garnered unanimous support in a March 16 meeting from Bronx Community Board 9, and the borough president’s office has until the end of this week to complete its review and submit a recommendation as the next step in the city’s uniform land use review process

followed by binding decisions by the city planning commission, the City Council and City Hall. 

Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr., whose district includes Soundview, did not respond to a request for comment on the project. 

‘Too, Too Easy’

Gene Laureano, 60, who’s lived in Soundview for 27 years, told THE CITY on Sunday while riding through Soundview Park’s greenway in his wheelchair along with his Jack Russell Terrier, that he supported the proposal to expand the studio and open up access to the waterfront in the process. 

“I think it’s a good thing. A lot of minorities that live in low-income places are always saying, ‘Oh, it’s nice over here. It’s nice over there. They don’t do nothing for us.’ Here it is,” said Laureano, who moved to the continental United States from Puerto Rico when he was eight years old and served in the Army for 10 years.  

The waterfront would be enclosed by an eight-foot gated entrance to match the eight-foot gates enclosing the campus, and would be closed when the sun is down, York Studio’s representatives said at the hearing. 

The entrance to York Studios’ Michaelangelo Campus

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“It’s safety for the general public, safety for the people working within the studio. And that’s really part of everything else that we’ve put forward,” Battista said.

“It’s just too, too easy when we have lights there, and then people know there are benches. ‘Hey, this is a place where we can go at night and hang out.’ We’re trying to prevent that for numerous reasons.” 

Frank St. Jacques, an attorney representing the studios, said the fencing is merited since the waterfront is located in an industrial area that is not well-lit with “very little street life, particularly at night.” 

But Juton Horstman, director of planning in the borough president’s office, pushed back on that premise. 

“Most other properties have not asked for the same concessions,” said Horstman. “And I’m not saying that we are opposed to the fence, I’m only saying that that argument isn’t necessarily the strongest argument, in my opinion, because then everyone in the city could make that same argument whenever they are basically along the waterfront.’”

But Laureano, who said he rolls through Soundview Park twice a day, liked the idea of a fence. 

“You’re gonna need that,” he said. 

‘Global Creative Capital’

York Studio’s proposal, which was formally initiated when the Department of City Planning certified the studio’s application in February, is still in the early stages of public review. 

York Studios co-owner Daniel O’Brien said at last week’s hearing that development would cost “in the region of $100 million,” start within a year and take about 18 months to complete. 

Anne del Castillo, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, said that the administration supports the expansion, noting that “York Studios contributes to NYC’s world-famous Film and TV industry, which in total generates $82 billion in economic activity and supports 185K jobs and furthers NYC’s reputation as a global creative capital.” 

She added that “the expansion of the Soundview campus will support local businesses, employ New Yorkers, while also providing the community with waterfront access to the Bronx River and connection to Soundview Park.”

The expansion is being proposed amid a decline in the film and tv industry in New York City. THE CITY reported in February that work has fallen by more than 30% even as neighboring New Jersey breaks production records. 

In response, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing to boost the state’s film tax credit to $7.7 billion over the next decade to production companies shooting in New York in next year’s budget. The state currently allocates $420 million annually to the credit. 

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