Hamilton’s west harbour film studio will begin making movie magic in February — to start, inside one of the city’s oldest manufacturing sites.

Aeon Studio Group trumpeted plans back in June 2019 to build a 14-acre film and TV production hub paired with a “live-work” development atop city-owned lands that were originally bulldozed for a failed stadium plan.

The COVID pandemic slowed environmental studies on the properties bounded by Queen, Tiffany and Barton streets and the land remains in taxpayer hands. In fact, the city even bought another area parcel for $3.5 million at the height of the first pandemic lockdown in April.

But the film consortium announced Wednesday that the “first decisive step” toward the Hollywood North dream — now called Aeon Bayfront Studios — will open for business Feb. 1 across the street from its planned mixed-use development, in the current home of AVL Manufacturing at 243 Queen St. N.

The size of the planned sound stage and studio space will be “a first of its kind for Hamilton,” said Aeon partner Jeff Anders, pointing to the 80,000-square-foot building’s 50-foot-tall ceilings and dedicated paint shop. “We are planting a big flag to turn (international) industry attention to this city.”

The Queen Street North factory recently churned out modified shipping containers for use as mobile COVID medical triage units. AVL head Vince DiCristofaro told The Spectator he is relocating his Queen Street operations and 100 workers to another factory on Sherman Avenue.

“We’re staying in Hamilton and more employment is moving in here, so it’s a real win-win for the city,” said DiCristofaro, who plans to sell the property to Aeon and its local real estate partner, Forge and Foster. The 7.5-acre property has had a factory on it since Great Western Railway rerolled worn out rails there in 1861. Now, it will be making movies.

Hamilton hands out 800 filming permits a year — including to well-known productions like “The Umbrella Academy” — but has been criticized for a lack of stage and postproduction space. The city markets itself as the third-largest “film cluster” in Canada, estimating 9,000 people worked in the industry.

AEON Studio Group partner Mike Bruce said, "There are only a few facilities in southern Ontario that can cater to productions requiring large ... stages with high ceilings and significant outdoor space,"

At full build-out, the film hub is supposed to add 1,000-plus new jobs. Aeon partner Mike Bruce said more than 100 people could work out of the first building at any one time. Aeon also plans to offer a film shoot location service for Hamilton.

The building still has to be retrofitted, but Ander said building tours for prospective tenants will begin soon.

Anders said work also continues on a purchase and development agreement with the city for the 14 acres of barren land across the road. No timeline or purchase price has been made public, so far.

Coun. Jason Farr expressed confidence Wednesday the new studio building shows the consortium is committed to following through on the larger west harbour development. “I think success breeds success,” he said Wednesday. “Hopefully this provides the financial impetus to grow and expand across the street.”

Hamilton originally bought 20 homes and businesses a decade ago in the Barton-Tiffany block for a planned West Harbour football stadium that ended up being built elsewhere. Over time, taxpayers have spent around $13 million on those and more recent land purchases in the area.

Matthew Van Dongen is a Hamilton-based reporter covering transportation for The Spectator. Reach him via email: mvandongen@thespec.com

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