In the beginning of this year, the Yonkers waterfront officially became home to one of the largest modern-built production campuses in the northeast, Lionsgate Studios Yonkers. While it caused a flurry of excitement in the art-and-entertainment world, with some going as far as dubbing the city the “Burbank of New York,” it means even more to the economic development of Westchester’s most populous city. We spoke with Mayor Michael Spano about his hopes for Lionsgate and its future in the county as a whole.
What was the process like to get Lionsgate into Yonkers?
This is huge, and it came about in an interesting kind of way. It wasn’t something that was kind of preplanned. When my administration got here in 2012, we were looking at a number of things, and one of the things we looked at was how we can get the film industry more involved in Yonkers. We knew that for years, they would come to the city of Yonkers. But all of a sudden, they weren’t. So we utilized the governor’s office to find out what we were doing wrong and how can we get more of this industry.
I was very surprised when the governor’s office came in and told me a number of things that needed to be changed. One of the things they said was that we had an annoying tech fee that just com pletely inconveniences the industry. Just for that, you have labor issues with municipal unions showing up on scenes and demanding that their members be hired. We were not “industry”; we were not easy to deal with; we were not accommodating at all. So, we ended that practice. As a result, we went from three days to very, very quickly — within a year to two — more than 200 days of filming in the city.
It’s a game-changer that will change how people speak of this city. People will talk about Yonkers and call it Hollywood on the Hudson. When this industry is here, fully operational, you’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, about millions of dollars in additional tax revenue. The barber shops and the little grocery stores and the hardware stores will all benefit. The people that live here will undoubtedly get job opportunities there.
How many jobs will the studio bring in? What about revenue?
We’re talking tens of millions of dollars. And we’re not talking hundreds of jobs — we’re talking about thousands of jobs. That’s a net positive on our city that’s going to really be far-reaching.
What do you feel about the social impact of Lionsgate in Yonkers?
Not that long ago, south Yonkers had a 30% unemployment rate. We had a lot of hopes and dreams, but development was at a standstill because we couldn’t seem to get shovels in the ground on these old factory sites that were brownfields. But now the brownfields are clean, and we’ve built well over 4,000 units of new housing. And now, of course, with the new housing to go with the new development, you have companies that are coming to Yonkers, and now you have an [company] like [Lionsgate]. As I said, it’s going to come to Yonkers and have an impact. Never in my wildest imagination did I think it was going to turn into this. We were just trying to get a bigger piece of the industry because we thought we had a niche that could be filled. It’s turned out to be something much greater than that.
Are there any plans for the future of collaboration between Lionsgate and Yonkers?
There are a couple of things going on. For example, Lionsgate is already working with Syracuse University. So there’s potential there to expand that type of relationship to Sarah Lawrence [College]. We also plan on some sort of collaboration with the developer for a project also on that waterfront. Right now, we’re looking to open up a new high school that will focus on film, and we are currently working with the Board of Education on that.