No happy ending for Granite High site as movie studio plan unwinds
South Salt Lake • Saving the century-old Granite High School started out as a dream for the city and developers but that's all it ever became.
The building at 3305 S. 500 East will not be turned into a motion picture and television production facility as originally promoted in a news conference in October. In fact, the property most likely will go on the open market to the highest bidder soon.
Parties involved say it all came down to a lack of money.
"We held that press conference thinking it was a done deal," South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood told The Salt Lake Tribune late last week.
But Granite High purchase negotiations were anything but settled. No deal was even inked before the big announcement.
"I'm really apologetic to all the neighbors and the parties involved," said Bryan Clifton, president of the Salt Lake City-based Redman Movies and Stories.
South Salt Lake, Woodbury and Redman last fall announced the more than 27 acres of Granite School District property would be turned into sound stages, offices, retail buildings and restaurants. Most important, there was a promise of a huge economic boost to the area with more than 1,000 jobs and development.
Clifton said he has invested "a tremendous amount of money" for the film studio to come to fruition.
"I'm frustrated and mystified and disappointed," he said. "It's not that we didn't try or have a good business plan."
Josh Woodbury, vice president of Woodbury, said the plan was for the developer to be the landlord of the property and Redman to be the tenant. Woodbury said Redman's growth projections required "some subsidy upfront" from his company.
The reason the promises of the October announcement changed, Woodbury said, was because plans weren't what they initially seemed.
"To get started up," he said, "there was more risk [with Redman] than any of the parties were aware of to start with."
Wood said the whole deal was "frustrating" after the city learned Redman wasn't able to secure financing in mid-December. At that point, the school district allowed the city and Woodbury to extend the lease on the building for 45 days while it tried to come up with an alternate solution.
Clifton said allegations of Redman not having enough capital for the project is a "misrepresentation of the facts" and added that the company simply couldn't come to a lease agreement with Woodbury.
"There is this whole nervousness in the banking industry for financing a movie studio," Clifton said, noting there isn't much of a guarantee on return in the film industry unless a movie is done and bringing in ticket sales.
The movie studio deal fizzling is the latest failed attempt to save the century-old campus, which stopped functioning as a school in June 2009. In 2011, the city attempted to get a voter-approved bond of $25 million to build a community center that would have included a recreation center, charter school, senior and after-school programs and open space for community gatherings. It failed by nine votes.
Wood later learned, though, that even with the bond, it wasn't "financially feasible to keep the building." So the city entertained a mixed-use plan with commercial buildings and apartment complexes in the already-well-known rental district. Those plans were scrapped when the city realized it wasn't able to keep the open space it desired, Wood said.
While the building's future has been floating with no lessee since February, Olympus and Granger high schools have used the athletic fields while their fields are under construction, according to Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley. Wood confirmed various film studios, including Redman, have been renting out the high school to film projects while the city leased the building.
"While this deal may not be moving forward, we look forward to working with the city to find some kind of open space," Horsley said. "If that doesn't work, we will look toward a private sale."
The news is heartbreaking to Granite High Class of '68 graduate Connie Anderson. She was also a teacher for the final three years at the school and a proponent for trying to save the school in her neighborhood.
"I have kind of been holding my breath on what was happening," said Anderson, who is also a Granite School Board member. "The city is the loser to not have something there."
Recent history of Granite
June 2009 • Last graduating class 2009 goes through Granite High before it closes its doors
April 2011 • South Salt Lake leases Granite High from Granite School District
Nov. 2011 • A $25 million bond to create a community center fails by nine votes
October 2012 • South Salt Lake holds a news conference to announce joint movie studio venture by Woodbury and Redman Movies and Stories
December 2012 • Granite School District allows the city to extend the contract for no cost for 45 days on good faith.
March 2013 • The deal has dissolved and the building likely will be on the open market in weeks