Back in June we noticed there were plans afoot to build a 150,000-square foot teevee and movie production facility at 2901 S. Lamar Street -- in a warehouse owned by a partnership that includes South Side on Lamar and convention center hotel developer Jack Matthews. The $400,000 build-out cost is being cushioned by a council-approved investment of $100,000 -- though Matthews tells Unfair Park that initial price tag is just that, the beginning of the beginning of his turning the empty space into a bustling hub of entertainment-making. And, reminds Dallas Film Commission head Janis Burklund, the city's investment does come with strings attached, among them, per last month's council agenda, Matthews and CCH Lamar Partners I, L.P., must have "a signed lease with a production company for a television series or feature film for a minimum 12 month term" and "make the property available for lease related to film, television and creative industry use for a term no less than 3 years."
The build-out's actually begin: The Good Guys has been kicked out of Fair Park to make way for the State Fair of Texas, and when the FOX series returns from a brief hiatus -- shooting on the 13 episodes originally ordered wrapped earlier this week -- in August, it'll move to the Cedars. Which only makes sense: Much of the show's been shot in that part of town -- hence its, well, authentically gritty '70s cop-show look Matt Nix says he came to Dallas for in the first place. Ah, but where some see grime, Matthews sees only opportunity.
"We have areas full of potential, no doubt about that," he says, grinning.
This is the first time Matthews has spoken publicly about the project, and he's reluctant to say too much, if only because he says he's been trying for so long to get something like this off the ground. Matthews says he and Burklund have been kicking around the idea of a studio for years and had once, about a decade ago, narrowed it down to an entirely different site on Industrial Boulevard, not far from the Longhorn Ballroom.
"I think we've helped her on some other short-term things, but this is the first concrete result," he says. "This property fit the criteria they were looking for. FOX needed 100,000-plus feet of space, which is better for them. They wanted it close to downtown. And they needed enough headroom."
The timing this time was perfect: There are three shows set to shoot here, including NBC's Chase (which will actually be headquartered in Farmers Branch) and FOX's Lonestar, which will use the Studios at Las Colinas as its base of operations. The Good Guys -- which had been lured here, in part, based upon the expectation it could shoot and scoot before the State Fair needed to set up -- was left homeless once FOX extended its run. From last month's council agenda: "Not currently having the size and amount of production space needed to accommodate these productions puts Dallas at a competitive disadvantage."
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But Matthews says this isn't a one-show shot -- after all, The Good Guys could return for another season or dozen, or it could get canceled before its run runs out. Whatever happens with that show, Matthews talks about the studio as a seedling and nothing more at present.
"The improvements we've done for them are gonna be good for once that show stops shooting there," he says. "Of course, we'd like it go for 20, 30 years. But, basically, that space will be used for other people hopefully in the same business as time goes on. And the word is already out there. It's beginning to get out there, and people understand what the different Dallas alternatives area and that the list of alternatives is growing. This will become one of those. But our first business is to look after FOX, and then we'll worry about who's coming after them."
Matthews, of course, also views the studio as one piece of the larger puzzle he and other developers and speculators, among them Mark Cuban, have been assembling south of Interstate 30.
"The creativeness of South Side of Lamar and all the music pieces that go up and down Lamar Street running south of the convention center, this just adds another little piece of magic to all the things we're doing," he says. "It's related to but very different from what's already happening in that area. It's a very creative area. It's really happening, and the best way to see it's happening is the highly intelligent and creative people who live in the Cedars. I've always said the most interesting part of South Side isn't the building itself, but riding up and down in the elevator and the people you meet. It's very different than anything else in the city and maybe even the country."