LAKEWOOD RANCH — With a TV production studio slated for Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota County established an incentive program Wednesday specifically geared toward bringing more film and TV-related projects to the area.
Sarasota County commissioners voted to allocate $250,000 from their Economic Development Incentive Program to create a Film Industry Incentive Program. The move comes as county officials prepare to unveil which TV production company has been approved to receive $650,000 in economic development incentives.
The production company’s name will be announced soon, said Sarasota economic development manager Jeff Maultsby, possibly as soon as Monday. It has been code-named “Project Waterboy,” with officials citing confidentiality agreements.
County officials expect the newly created incentive program to stimulate the local economy, using the money to recruit film industry projects similar to the proposed Lakewood Ranch studio. The $250,000 program could also give the Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office leverage on several projects already in the works.
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“We are in discussions with several television pilots and one series that is seeking very specific assets we have here in Sarasota County,” said Jeanne Corcoran, director of the Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office. “We are also working on several low-budget indie films, a fashion shoot commercial for a major designer and other miscellaneous projects.”
The film-based incentives are expected to help the area remain competitive with other municipalities in Florida that wave money at the entertainment industry.
Palm Beach County, Miami and St. Petersburg-Clearwater offer generous incentive packages to the film industry that can be combined with $242 million available in state incentives. Palm Beach County has a $150,000 film and television incentive grant program, and Miami’s incentive program is capable of providing up to $30,000 for a single project, The local incentives typically help the film industry with expenses such as usage fees to film at beaches, parks or roadways.
“What we found is that several communities around the state offer local incentives to take care of expenses these producers run into, and we have nothing of the sort here,” Maultsby said. “So this is to level the playing fields. The hope certainly is it will encourage more filmmakers, producers to select our area for their particular project.”
Sarasota’s Film Industry Incentive Program will be performance-based so that economic stimulus conditions such as job creation and salaries determine how the money is distributed.
Before establishing the program, Sarasota County approved the allocation of $650,000 to Project Waterboy under the same conditions. The TV production company is expected to create 117 jobs over the next three years. If it doesn’t, the company must return the money to Sarasota County.
“I think it’s just another tool in the toolbox to foster jobs,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta. “I think it (the film industry) is realizing we’re obviously open for business, this is a beautiful part of the country and will at least check us out and see what we have to offer that can be combined with state incentives.”
Grace Gagliano, Herald business reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.