HORSE CAVE — A groundbreaking ceremony took place Thursday afternoon for Bale Studios, which will be constructed along East Main Street in Horse Cave.
Having a film studio in Hart County is something former Hart County Judge-Executive Terry Martin has wanted for quite some time.
“This is what we've always wanted,” he said.
The film studio is a project that actor/producer/director Branscombe Richmond and Jerry Embree with Hawaii-based PanPacific Studios are partnering together to do.
The two had already been working to build a film studio in Hawaii when Richmond suggested Embree come to Kentucky, more specifically Hart County. Richmond introduced him to members of the Southern Kentucky Film Commission, including Martin, who explained the idea for the project and Embree agreed to come on board.
“I'm not a movie guy. I'm just an old land developer. The kind you all hate, but over the 40 to 50 years of my career I've learned that you've got to step out and take a risk,” Embree said.
Embree has developed a prototype for what the film studio could look like.
The first phase of the construction project calls for the main stage to be just under 10,000 square feet.
“I think there is potential here for two maybe even three (stages) some day. This property can accommodate three of our stages. We are already thinking that first stage may need to be closer to 12,000 to 13,000 square feet,” Embree said. “I think the demand is there. I may be wrong. We are going to build it. They are going to come and I think there is just a great future for the film industry here.”
The land on which the studio will be built was donated by the Ken Bale family, which has deep roots in Hart County.
The Southern Kentucky Film Commission began discussing the possibility of a land donation with the Bale family about four years ago, and they agreed to donate the site along East Main Street, which is where a tobacco warehouse once stood.
The project is still in the design stage, but Embree is starting to meet with structural engineers to discuss the project further.
“I'm hoping we can have this thing under construction in 90 to 120 days. I'd love to be able to open it in the first quarter of next year,” he said.
Several dignitaries attended the groundbreaking ceremony, both on the local and state level.
Among those who turned out was Horse Cave Mayor Randall Curry, who said he was thrilled to see the vision of a film studio come to fruition.
“I'm also thankful and grateful to the Bale family who had a vision also to donate this piece of property for this to happen,” he said, adding that Ken Bale was an integral part of the Horse Cave community for many years.
When the Southern Kentucky Film Commission first formed, the film industry in Kentucky was thriving.
That was due mostly to the tax incentives the state offered film production companies.
Kentucky offers three nonrefundable tax incentives ranging from 30 to 35 percent to film production companies if they choose to do their projects in the state and to hire local labor. At one time, the tax incentives were refundable, which made Kentucky competitive with other states for films.
The Kentucky Film Office stopped accepting applications for incentives on Jan. 31, 2018 due to a funding shortfall for the state's pension program.
Sen. Steve Meredith attended the groundbreaking and said the film tax incentive credit needs to be changed.
“Before it was reversed it was the impetus for a growth of the film industry in Kentucky. And the growth was truly phenomenal. I think probably it may have been one of the busiest states in the United States rivaling even Georgia, which is renowned for it,” he said.
Changing the film tax credit incentive to being nonrefundable, he said was a mistake.
“We pretty much decimated this industry. We've talked about that in Frankfort. Our budget will come up in 2020. I'm certainly committed to it and I know Rep. Bart Rowland is committed to it,” Meredith said. “Reverse this and get the tax credits back into place so we can make this a viable industry in Kentucky.”
Martin pointed out Kentucky's tax incentive was at one time better than what many states had to offer. He asked those in attendance to tell their state legislators to change the film tax incentive from nonrefundable to refundable.
“We are going to bring the infrastructure, but we need a little help from the legislature to bring the incentives back,” he said.
Tim Bates with the Kentucky Film Office was also present and he, too, talked about the film tax credit incentive.
“You're not going to find a return on investment in any other industry that is that strong,” he said.
Bates also pointed out that the film industry will bring jobs to Kentucky.
“These are not minimum wage jobs. These are good-paying jobs. Keep that in mind when you talk to your legislators. We need your support in order to see this come back,” he said.
Richmond and Embree already have film production companies that are interested in making at least six films at their studio.