Mayor throws his weight behind big tax break for company proposing film studio on Oahu

Building a new studio could help the industry double those revenues, Mayor Blangiardi said
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 5:47 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2023 at 5:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said a plan to build a new film studio in west Oahu will not only create high-paying jobs but will help diversify the island’s economy.

Last year, Hawaii’s film industry generated a record $480 million in revenues. But much of the post-production work for the filming here was shipped off island due to the lack of studio space.

Building a new studio could help the industry double those revenues, Blangiardi said.

“We’re looking at more than a $1 billion business now. I’ll go on record as saying that. We’re now also looking at also creating a lot of great jobs, high paying jobs,” the major said.

“There’s a couple of major productions going on right now. One of which involves Jason Momoa. They did the first 20 or so days here and then they went down to New Zealand to do the production.”

Hackman Capital Partners of California, which owns 18 studios worldwide, wants to build a $250 million film studio known as the Aloha Studio on 17 acres of land next to the University of Hawaii West Oahu.

The plan will include six to 12 sound stages next to the UH West Oahu’s Academy of Creative Media. The academy’s founder says it’s all about diversifying Hawaii’s economy.

“We’re not sitting here talking about more condos, more malls, more restaurants. We’re talking about things that generate actual jobs that keep people here,” said Chris Lee, the academy’s founder.

“These are jobs all comfortably come under the heading of living-wage jobs, often six figures.”

To make it happen, the investors are asking for an exemption from paying property taxes.

A new bill now before the City Council provides a 30-year exemption for property taxes for businesses that invest at least $75 million in a new facility and employ more than 100 people.

Some are raising concerns about the loss of tax revenue.

“That would be exempting or forgiving $930,000 per year. And for 30 years, we’re talking about $27.9 million,” said Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters.

But the UH West Oahu property has been vacant for decades and Waters acknowledged that the property won’t generate tax revenue for the city if it remains undeveloped.

The city council’s budget committee held off making a decision on the bill and said it will hold a further hearing due to some technical questions.