By Bill Parry
Film and television production in New York City got a powerful upgrade Tuesday when film executives joined political leaders for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Kaufman Astoria Studios’ new back lot.
The 34,800-square-foot outdoor soundstage, the first in the five boroughs, is being counted on to generate greater revenue and more jobs for New York.
“Today is a celebration of a vision coming true,” Kaufman Astoria President Hal Rosenbluth said. “The back lot is an exciting new development for the film and television industry in New York as well as for this area of Astoria.”
The new facility was created when an entire block of 36th Street between 34th and 35th avenues was de-mapped and leased to Kaufman Astoria Studios two years ago.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who pressed the National Parks Service to extend the lease for the street from 40 to 99 years, said, “It’s a game-changer for New York. I like to see New York be No. 1 in everything and we are getting there. Hollywood watch out!”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) added, “The street closure was a long time coming. A decade ago the film industry was leaving New York. They’d shoot New York street scenes in Toronto. We saved and revitalized the industry.”
New York City Film Commissioner Katherine Oliver pointed to an important benefit of the new facility, saying “this will lessen the burden on neighborhoods throughout Queens because now they can just film the scenes here.”
Most of the assembled officials credited the studio chairman, George Kaufman, for taking over an abandoned property in 1980 and building an empire. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement “in that time he’s generated $1.1 billion to the state while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
In remarks that were shorter than the standing ovation that preceded it, Kaufman said, “I knew that we had the potential to turn this neighborhood into a thriving production, arts and cultural district for the city, and I’m proud to see that vision is a reality today.”
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who played the role of emcee for the ribbon-cutting event, grew up on 44th Street and would bicycle past the area with his sister Kim.
“This area was dormant. No people and no business and now the neighborhood is thriving,” he said.
Kaufman Astoria Studios is the anchor of the new cultural hub that now includes the Museum of the Moving Image, the Frank Sinatra High School of the Performing Arts and the Queens Council on the Arts.
“From a dormant industrial building, Kaufman Astoria Studios has built a world-class institution that has helped Queens become Hollywood East,” said Van Bramer. “The addition of New York City’s first-ever outdoor soundstage puts Astoria on the map when it comes to producing blockbuster movies in the United States.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.