LAKEWOOD RANCH — The highly anticipated name of the Lakewood Ranch-bound film and television production company was unveiled in dramatic fashion Monday morning.
Before an audience of reporters, elected officials and film professionals, Ken Sanborn approached the podium, dimmed the lights and played a video presentation that said it all: “The anticipation is over ... a slice of Hollywood in Sarasota ... Sanborn Studios.
Formerly only known to the public as Project Waterboy due to confidentiality agreements, Sanborn Studios LLC is poised to make an economic splash to the tune of $164.2 million when it is fully functional in about five years. Sanborn Studios’ capital investment will be an estimated $30 million over the next 18 months. The studio is projected to create 117 jobs over the next three years, with approximately 60 employees hired in the first year. The company could eventually occupy 22 acres in the Lakewood Ranch area.
“For us, this is a great opportunity to bring a piece of Hollywood to the area,” said Sanborn, chief executive officer of Sanborn Studios. “Our goal is to create TV series and network shows that are filmed and produced in Sarasota.”
Sanborn immersed himself in the development of Sanborn Studios and his entertainment company, Sanborn Entertainment LLC, after selling his company Gyrocam Systems for an undisclosed amount to Lockheed Martin in August 2009.
Gyrocam Systems makes cameras that help military vehicles detect roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices. Under Sanborn’s leadership, the company often received multimillion dollar contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense to build surveillance camera systems. A 2006 contract worth $51.7 million for 140 cameras caught President George Bush’s attention and he paid a visit to the local facility then located at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
“I never intended on selling camera equipment and I ended up selling more than I ever thought,” Sanborn said.
Now the 30,000-square-foot hangar at SRQ that once housed Gyrocam Systems will serve as a post-production facility for Sanborn Entertainment. The second facility Sanborn will immediately occupy is a 30,000-square-foot building in Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park.
That space will be a temporary facility for Sanborn Studios and will be renovated to include two sound stages, production offices and makeup and dressing rooms.
The local studio could eventually occupy 22 acres in Lakewood Ranch, and Sanborn has already purchased six acres from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to build several sound stages and an office building for Sanborn Studios’ future home.
“This is a win for the community,” said Rex Jensen, president and chief executive officer for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. “We are particularly excited to assist Sanborn Studios by offering a diverse range of film locations such as Main Street, our farms, and some of our very scenic forested areas.”
The company’s initial capital investment over the first 18 months will be $30 million with an estimated $14 million to be spent on infrastructure development. Other investments will include facility renovations, equipment, hiring and purchasing rights for initial productions. The TV production company’s first major pilot will be a TV action series “Miami 24/7.” Other projects on Sanborn Entertainment’s slate include two reality TV series: “Cutting Edge Medicine” and “You Can Make A Difference.”
Production is expected to begin in November on Miami 24/7, and Sanborn has enlisted the help of a 19-year veteran of the film industry to assist with his company’s productions and growth.
Karinne Behr, who has overseen financing for more than 30 films in Hollywood, will serve as president of Sanborn Studios. Before coming to Sanborn Studios, Behr was president of Bauer Martinez Studios and served as executive producer on movies that starred Richard Gere, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd.
“With the contacts that I’ve cultivated over nearly two decades, Ken’s backing and the help of the (Economic Development Corp.) and Lakewood Ranch, as well as the county and the state of Florida, we are positive that Sanborn will quickly become a staple within the entertainment world,” Behr said.
Sarasota County plans to commit $767,000 in performance-based incentives. And the state plans to commit $468,000 in incentives.
“As an economic developer you can imagine what I think about while I lay awake at night,” said Kathy Baylis, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. “And it’s that big one. The one that can be a game changer in terms of economic development for our area. This is a significant, significant project for our community.”
The Florida Legislature and Sarasota County have made great strides in attracting more film and TV production projects to the state.
The Legislature approved $242 million in tax credits to be utilized as incentives for the film industry. The money was made available in July, and the Florida Film Commission plans to make $53.5 million available in the first year.
In Sarasota County, county commissioners established a Film Industry Economic Incentive Program in an effort to bring more filming to the area. The county allocated $250,000 from the Economic Incentive Program to create the film specific incentives.
“This studio is another step forward in expanding the positive impact of the industry, and I applaud Sanborn Studios on selecting Florida as their new home,” said Gov. Charlie Crist in a news release.