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Queens Chronicle


State tax credit adds to employment at LIC-based film, television studios

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Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 4:52 pm, Thu Jun 27, 2013.

Both Kaufman Astoria and Silvercup studios are part of real estate development businesses.

The Suna brothers, Stuart and Alan, both trained architects, of Silvercup have developed several residential properties around Queens and continue to shop around for more sites.

Similarly the Kaufman Organization, based in Manhattan, operates as a mega commercial real estate firm, controlling about 7 million square feet of land around the city.

That real estate and development side certainly makes money and creates jobs; however, not with the pizazz of their movie studios, based in Long Island City and Astoria, respectively.

After all these movie and television studios have helped create some memorable pieces of pop culture history.

Silvercup, near the Queensboro Bridge, housed the couch sets where the older couples in “When Harry Met Sally” are interviewed, sharing how they met and fell in love.

Samantha, Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte’s bedrooms were at Silvercup, and when these “Sex and the City” girls went to Dubai in the second movie, their plane never left LIC.

The recently passed James Gandolfini of “The Sopranos” wheeled and dealed right there as well.

Nearby Kaufman Astoria Studios, located on 35th Avenue where LIC meets Astoria, has hosted iconic programs such as “The Cosby Show.”

“When we had the original ‘Cosby Show,’ it told Hollywood that we could do that type of work in New York just as well as they did it in Los Angeles,” KAS President Hal Rosenbluth said, “and that was a big deal.”

Kaufman also hosts “Sesame Street” and feature films including “Men in Black III” and the 1996 flick “Ransom” with Mel Gibson, which at the time was the studio’s longest-running tenant of about nine months. Before then production teams used the stages for TV pilots or for 12-episode seasons. Feature films created a larger impact by using the space and utilizing the neighborhood for a longer time period.

It’s clear by their resumes film and television production teams like New York, but nevertheless incentives do help.

Both studios cite the New York State production tax credit as their biggest job creator.

“The biggest impact as far as jobs and revenue has been thanks to that tax credit,” Silvercup Studios President Stuart Match Suna said.

Since 2004 the state program has given production companies a refundable tax credit on below-the-line costs. These costs are not payment of the directors, writers or actors but most of the wages for other professionals such as carpenters, scene artists and lighting experts.

It started as a 10 percent credit, but thanks to competition from nearby states it has grown to 30 percent.

“It’s the biggest marketing tool we have ever been given,” Rosenbluth said. “We have enough data that proves it creates positive revenue and jobs.

“Next time go you to the movies stay until the very end,” he said. “Every name that crawls by is a job.”

Since its inception the credit has attracted 665 film and television projects, generating $10.1 billion in economic activity for the state, according to the state’s website.

There are some qualifications, one which is the production companies must use a certified stage at least once, Suna said. That’s where these Long Island City- and Astoria-based studios come into play.

“We’re like an airplane,” Suna said. “Sometimes it’s empty and sometimes it’s full. Once the day is over we don’t get that time back. We rent time.”

Silvercup for the last decade has employed 60 people without much fluctuation, but where they have seen lots more jobs is in how many production company employees use the space on any given day.

“There can be anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 employees,” Suna said.

Similarly KAS employs anywhere from 50 to 100 people directly, Rosenbluth said, but through production it sees another 1,500 workers.

But the effect on jobs is not just inside the studio walls. The areas’ businesses see increased action.

The producers of “Gossip Girl,” filmed at Silvercup, used the coffee shop Communitea on Vernon Boulevard for many scenes, eventually building a Communitea set at the studio. “Gossip Girl” producers also made a point to decorate the apartments seen on the show with artwork from Queens artists, Suna said.

“We encourage using local businesses,” Suna said, listing LIC lumber company Lenoble Lumber as one.

KAS won the right to develop the buildings it currently occupies from the city in the late ’70s.

For years the buildings were vacant.

“Parents wouldn’t let [their children] come north of Broadway,” Rosenbluth said. “For a parent nothing good comes from vacant buildings.”

The studio’s goal was always to create a campus and turn that dangerous avenue into what it is now. It found tenants like the movie theater, Pizza Uno and Starbucks, Applebee’s and smaller businesses such as a waxing salon, dry cleaners that deal with the thousands of costumes, a gym and the many mom-and-pop restaurants.

“Every one of these businesses brings jobs and creates jobs,” Rosenbluth said. “Just come here at lunch time and watch every food delivery person that comes in.”

On the cultural side, Rosenbluth said, KAS helped attract the Museum of the Moving Image, which George Kaufman donated $1 million to for a renovated courtyard, the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts and new tenant Queens Council on the Arts.

“It’s about nurturing an area and encouraging the growth of a campus,” Rosenbluth said.

Welcome to the discussion.