Local Pols Say Federal Government is Getting in the Way of NYC’s First Outdoor Film Studio *UPDATED*


New York City is oh so very close to being a better city for film and television than Hollywood — if the federal government would just get out of the damn way!

At least that was the message today on the corner of 36th Street in Astoria, Queens, where Sen. Chuck Schumer, flanked by relevant neighborhood politicians, called on the National Park Service to stop making it difficult for a local film company to build New York City’s first-ever outdoor studio.

This project — which would convert 36th Street between 34th and 35th avenues into a movie studio lot — apparently could make all the difference in attracting filmmakers and production companies to New York City, instead of Los Angeles, or Toronto, or New Orleans. That means, you guessed it, lots of jobs and economic development, all on one block in Queens.

“The one thing California has over us is that they have outdoor movies studios. We don’t have any outdoor movie studios in New York City,” Schumer said. “We lag behind Hollywood as a center of film and television for this reason, because they want to be in New York. They know the talent is in New York, our tax breaks…have lured tremendous amounts of business here. It’s one of our biggest employment growth industries.”

He added, “It also is fun. You know, I live in Park Slope in Brooklyn where they like to film a lot of movies. I don’t mind that no one can park on the street for a few days. You get to see all the people there and…say, ‘Who’s making this movie?’…It not only adds jobs to New York — good-paying jobs — it adds excitement.”

Echoing the message of one of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s more colorful public appearances this year with the cast of Gossip Girl, Schumer said, “We’re giving Hollywood a run for its money!”

The outdoor studio project, run by Kaufman Astoria Studios, which is based on that block in Queens, has already received necessary approvals for the project, making its way through the city’s lengthy public review process, and getting the green light from a bunch of other relevant acronyms — the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and the National Park Service (NPS). It’s this last one, though, that seems to be giving the project some trouble.

The project is on NPS land and thus requires its approval — and NPS had in fact, as of recently, already signed off on the construction of the outdoor studio. But that changed after New York City’s Public Design Commission requested that the project make slight design changes (to add a more “gritty, industrial feel”), prompting Kaufman Studios to redesign the gate at the entrance to the studio. With that aesthetic change, NPS informed the studio that it would again have to review the entire project, which Kaufman and its supporters say will mean major delays and increased costs.

It could lead to lost jobs and fame and glory, all because of some gate, the speakers at the press conference this morning said. Schumer said it would push the $2 million project months behind schedule and make it difficult for the studio to host major productions by the summer of 2013.

“This story is Washington at its worse,” said Schumer, who sent a letter to NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. “We say it’s time to say, ‘Action! Lights! Camera!’ on this project now.” (That’s not exactly the proper order of things, right?)

Kaufman Astoria Studios, since undergoing a major renovation and revival in 1980, has been a site for major motion pictures, television shows, and commercials. Recently, it’s been the home of Nurse Jackie, Bourne 4, and Men in Black III. Schumer also noted that the film industry is booming across the city, with 188 films and a record 23 primetime TV shows shot in New York in 2011.

The elected officials on the scene today — City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan — took turns criticizing bureaucracy and red tape and thanking each other for existing and making Queens better.

When asked whether there were concerns locally about how the converted block would impact traffic, Van Bramer said that there were traffic studies done by the city, adding, “What we gain is so much greater in terms of economic development, good jobs, and the increased vitality in this area. It is a huge win…It means a strong Astoria and Western, Queens.”

UPDATE: An NPS spokesperson sent us an email in response implying that the project would be moving forward smoothly. The spokesperson said: “The National Park Service has been working with the applicants from Kaufman Astoria Studios and have approved the design concepts for new signs, a gate and stair railings. We are awaiting the final written submission from the applicants but see no reason they will not be approved.” NPS also noted that it does not own the building, but oversees the Historic Surplus Property program and has the responsibility of monitoring the property.