Efforts to develop a $20 million film and television studio in a technology park west of Missoula remain in place, though the project may hinge on the outcome of a bill being considered by the Montana Legislature.
While House Bill 340 navigates the lawmaking process, Missoula County on Thursday agreed to extend its contract with Shadowcast Partners on six lots located in the Missoula Development Park.
Last November, the county accepted the company’s $1.5 million offer on the property, where the media company plans to construct and operate the Montana Media Hub – a film and television studio for major productions.
Due diligence and a financial contingency were due by March 31.
“Their planning is based in part on the Montana Media Tax Credit Act,” said Dori Brownlow, director of the county’s development district. “With the unknowns of the Legislature, they’re asking for a continuance. Their financing partners want to know what’s in the legislation before making any commitments.”
Montana’s share of film and television production continues to grow, and with it the jobs and revenue that comes with it. House Bill 340 would expand the state’s tax incentives, enticing further growth of the industry in the state.
The state currently caps tax credits at just $10 million, and it reached that cap in 2020. It’s also set to hit that figure again this year. The legislation would remove that cap and expand the wages and spending that’s required to access the incentive.
Shadowcast project partner Josh Schroeder said the Montana Media Hub in Missoula is directly tied to the legislative process. The jobs and revenue it could bring to the region are as well.
“Until we have a result on the media act amendments that are proposed, it’s difficult to advance our discussion any further with our capital partners,” Schroeder said Thursday. “They want to see what comes out of that process.”
Given the legislative uncertainties, Shadowcast asked for and received more time from Missoula County to close on the property deal. If the legislation passes, it would give the company time to conduct what Schroeder described as “significant negotiations” without the looming deadline and earlier closing date.
The original closing date was set for June 30. The extension granted Thursday by the county moves that date to October 29, with financing set for August 31 instead of March 31.
“We’re optimistic on our chances,” Schroeder said of the legislation. “The support from the county, the trade organizations and the businesses we’ve reached out to have been very helpful. It would be positive for Missoula and Montana’s economy as a whole.”
According to the “Economic Impact of Montana Film Production” report commissioned last year by the state, film production in Montana had an economic impact of nearly $50 million and supported the equivalent of 280 full-time jobs in 2019.
It also found that productions spent nearly $24 million at local hotels, restaurants and retail shops. Last year, the popular Kevin Costner series “Yellowstone” left Utah and relocated its production in Missoula, where it does much of its shooting, including scenes in the downtown district.
The new film and television studio would help attract more opportunities to the region, the industry contends. The Montana Film Coalition and other groups are backing the legislation that’s needed to make the deal possible.
“We got organized in advance,” Schroeder said.
The Shadowcast project would create a 120,000 square-foot facility built specifically to industry standards for film and television production. It would include three 20,000 square-foot sound stages along with flex space for smaller needs, such as video game and software makers.
Project Partner Adam Graham said visual streaming content has entered a period of rapid growth given the advent of new technology and the explosion of new productions and channels.
He described the Montana Media Hub as an asset class that’s in high demand but is lacking supply. Missoula has several direct flights to Los Angeles and the local economic impacts of the facility would include new jobs, the purchase of local goods, additional demand for air service, and greater hotel occupancy, among others.
It could also result in film-induced tourism, a boost to local arts and culture, and employee spending.
“This is really focused on television and film production, but it could also include streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple, or large network and cable giants like Paramount, Warner Brothers and Hallmark,” Graham said last year. “We think Montana is poised with the right investment to establish a strong new industry in the state due to the MEDIA Act and tax incentives.”