I recently met with Joel Harber, Athena Studios CEO in Athens after learning they had just received the certification of occupancy for the studio.
When I arrived late in the afternoon, there was one vehicle I could spot – Joel was there. It would be a memorable moment for me as he and I were about to walk the property virtually alone, buildings purposed built, massive studio walls towering over us – we were in that “space between” – the space between creation and activity. It would never be this way again, I’m sure.
By all accounts, the development is one that shows the true impact of Georgia’s growth in the creative space. Joel, a commercial real estate executive for nearly 20 years, partnered with others in the studio world to execute this project outside the Atlanta metro area. John Raulet of Raulet Property Partners, Gannon Murphy of Cinelease along with Rob Moran and Chandler Rierson of Bay Point Media are all involved with helping make Athena a success.
To recap, Athena Studios is a 110-acre studio complex featuring 200,000 square feet of purpose-built space for TV and film production. As you drive into the property, the first thing you see is the 14,600 square-foot soundstage and learning center for the exclusive use of educating and training of students from the University of Georgia and the Georgia Film Academy programs. The backyard of this facility is literally jobs for students and graduates.
As we walked the property, I could see what Joel and his team will focus on as they bring in executives from Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Warner Bros., Paramount and Disney. The design features and layout of Athena is a result of trial and error from other stages and built to today’s best standards. The first productions have an opportunity to truly customize their experience at Athena.
Besides the marketing push and tidying up minor loose ends at the development, Joel is deeply involved in advocacy efforts to strengthen Georgia’s tax incentive for film and TV production. Athena Studios is a project that state leaders can embrace – a physical display of the success of the film tax incentive. Now with a major film and TV studio in a music city, next to the largest university in the state with robust gaming and esports activity, Athena Studios is a converging example of how the film tax incentive creates jobs and opportunities for Georgians.
I was excited to hear Joel talk about formation of the Athens Film and Entertainment Commission. Working with other organizations like the Athens Chamber and local business leaders, the commission is an essential organization that will grow the region. The Athens Film and Entertainment Commission will provide the platform for public/private collaboration, structure and public support that is key to facilitating job creation in all areas of the creative ecosystem.
I personally know of one series that is exploring Athena as a possible home. It’s really a great option for an episodic as are many of our Georgia communities located outside of Atlanta. No doubt it is one of many considering Athena now that the studio is ready to go.
By Randy Davidson