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Studio Time

A high-tech soundstage for Magnuson Park. 

Exactly how big is a 144,232-square-foot building? Big enough to fit a few airplanes—with room to spare. Magnuson Park’s Building 2 was erected in 1929 as part of the Sand Point Naval Air Station, where it was used throughout the first part of the last century as a double-sized hangar to work on war planes.

Also big enough to accommodate a movie set rivaling anything in Hollywood. If a consortium of film-industry advocates and Magnuson Park administrators have their way, that’s exactly what the sprawling space will be used for.

Building 2 is the largest city-owned structure in Seattle; it’s mostly been an underutilized storage facility since 1977, when the Navy handed over the entire base to the city, which converted it to Magnuson Park. These days many of the former military buildings there house low-income housing, private and nonprofit offices, event spaces and arts facilities—the latter administered by the Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange, or SPACE.

Last year, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation (SPR) issued a request for proposals for the future of  Building 2. In June, a 25-member task force— helmed by SPACE and comprising Washington Filmworks and representatives from the film and music industries—submitted a plan to convert Building 2 to Magnuson Studios, a “creative commons” geared toward expanding the Washington film industry.

The 117-page proposal describes Magnuson Studios as a three-phase, $34 million project that will, within 10 years, sport two state-of-the-art stages; lighting, costume and prop workshops and storage; motion-capture and VR studios; administration offices; and a public screening room and cafe. The Studios will be ready for film and TV production by 2020 with the remaining improvements—which will be focused on new-media technology and facilities, plus educational and public space—to be completed by 2027.

“Everything that the film industry needs to happen in a building can happen in Building 2,” says SPACE executive director Julianna Ross. The nonprofit has advocated for Magnuson’s expanded use by arts and cultural entities since it formed in 1994.

“We don’t have to do much build-out,” Ross says, “but it needs a lot of work because it’s so huge. The roof is several acres, and [replacing] that alone is four to five million dollars.” The bulk of the expense would go toward making the building safe—seismic retrofitting, asbestos abatement, fire alarm and sprinklers, electrical service.

The competing proposal before SPR came from Next Step Archery, a nonprofit “center for archery excellence” that hopes to make Building 2 into one of America’s largest indoor archery ranges. Forty percent of the park is already occupied by sports and athletic facilities, Ross notes.

Washington Filmworks executive director Amy Lillard envisions Magnuson Studios as a place unique in the world, a meeting point for imaginative minds from the film and gaming industries to collaborate with cutting-edge technology developers. As both fields continue to grow across the region, she expects new-media development to take place alongside conventional filmmaking.

“We’ve talked about this digital revolution forever, but Washington has unique assets from the tech sector and storytelling side that other places don’t have,” she says. “This space becomes the place where those things meet and new content creation comes out. It’s good business, it’s creative business. We’re all better if we’re working in a creative environment.”

SPR has until Aug. 19 to choose a proposal. Until then, Ross and Lillard urge anyone who supports the creation of Magnuson Studios to contact Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre and sign the petition available at washingtonfilmworks.org

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