Five weeks after first visiting Camden and appraising property on which to site film studios, B’D’ Turman’d Entertainment LLC has terminated its interest.

Camden Town Manager Roberta Smith learned from B. D’Turman’d on April 26 of its request to terminate any further efforts with the Camden Film Studios project. The company’s primary concerns included the land configuration, and its size in relation to the plans to construct two 18,000-square-foot studios.

“It is too bad that things did not work out for them,” said Smith on April 27. “We knew it was a long shot, but it was worth a try.”

The lot, with 2.88 acres of land, was too confining, according to B.D’ Turman’d.

“Since the date of our last amended contract on March 23, 2011, and in consultation with our professionals, it appears that the land configuration, its size, and the restrictions affecting title would make it impossible for us to develop two 18,000 square foot studios, along with adequate parking, office facilities and river improvements. In order for Camden and New England to be a major force and attract the movie industry, the two 18,000 square foot studios are absolutely necessary,” wrote Larry Reed, chairman of the board for B.D’ Turman’d Entertainment LLC, in an April 26 letter to Smith.

The town of Camden originally scheduled a special referendum to take place Tuesday, May 10 allowing Camden voters to decide whether to enter into a purchase and sale agreement with B. D’Turman’d Entertainment LLC for the property in question. The process to terminate the agreement and cancel the special referendum will begin immediately, and then be taken up during the Camden Select Board’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 3, Smith said.

“Considering the environmental impact of the site, the two houses located adjacent to it and the easement affecting the land, completing this project in accordance with our industry standards would prove to be very difficult,” wrote Reed in his letter to the town. “To reduce the facility in size would make the facility less competitive and non-compelling for purposes of attracting independent and studio film producers needed to make Camden and New England a center for film making.

“Our professional consultants have further advised us that there is little or no ability to expand by virtue of the location of the property and the streets that separate it from adjoining properties. In addition, the acquisition costs of the extra land and improvements needed to build what was originally intended, along with the parking required, makes the cost prohibitive.

“Rather than wasting any further time, we are asking to execute a mutual termination of the subject agreement where neither party has any further obligations with respect to each other.”

He added that Camden is a beautiful community in which to live and work, and he thanked those who supported them, especially the Select Board and business leaders.

“Unfortunately, it is the feeling of our board that there are a select few in town who have affected an aggressive and mean spirited campaign that has crossed the normal boundaries of civility, one which would make the environment a difficult one in which to do business and to achieve needed approvals, such as a TIF [tax increment financing], not to mention the ability to live comfortably in the community, with a feeling that we are a welcome part of the community,” Reed wrote.

Smith also said that the town office had been “disturbed by the tone of the public discourse.”

Bill Ferrell, another principal in B’D’ Turman’d, cited April 26 in a separate email to Brian Hodges, Camden’s economic and development director, emails that he received from addresses traced to California, and expressed concern over potential implications of race and ethnic heritage.

“Whoever is behind these emails should be held accountable,” he wrote. “It is a shame, really, as their actions, regardless of our decision on the property, have and will continue to scar Camden’s reputation with businesses, hurting the town of Camden and its residents, not helping them. I believe that you who know the players in town and will be able to glean more from these few emails than I can.”

Moving forward

Hodges said April 27 that two other companies have expressed interest in the property, one inquiring about its suitability for sound recording and piano manufacturing; the other an educational institution. Yahoofinance.com was where Bill Ferrell, a B’D’ Turman’d Entertainment principal in Los Angeles, had first become acquainted with Camden.

“We are actively working with other parties who have expressed an interest in the parcel and will continue to market the site under the Free Land for Jobs incentive,” said Hodges.

The Camden Select Board endorsed on March 15 a $175,000 purchase and sale agreement with B’D’ Turman’d Entertainment LLC, which said it wanted to develop sound stages — soundproof structures — for use in the filmmaking industry, a $13 million project on the old Apollo Tannery land on Washington Street. Terms of the sale required the LLC to pay the town $1. In exchange, the company was to create 24 net new jobs with a combined yearly wage and benefit package of $40,000 per job within five years. If that did not happen, the company was to pay $175,000 to the town.

Camden had scheduled a May 10 special town meeting with one warrant article asking voters to authorize the sale agreement that would sell a portion of the former tannery real estate for $1, subject to creation of jobs, evidence of sufficient financing, and approval of the town’s planning board. The sale would have excluded the trail corridor, which is in perpetual easement held by Coastal Mountains Land Trust.

B’D’ Turman’d hoped to begin building one of two sound stages on the property this summer. Portions of the company’s business plan made public on April 1 said funding for the Camden Studios would derive from a variety of sources, including their own equity, 25 percent; bank loans, 25 percent; tax credits and rebates from state film incentives, 20 percent; and sales guarantees and pre-sales of foreign territories, 30 percent.

The principals — Larry Reed and Jerome Turman of Milwaukee; and Bill Ferrell of Los Angeles — said they were in negotiations with a “large funding source that has a very successful history of investing in the arts.” They expected to complete construction by April 2012. “Concurrently with the construction of the studio, the company will seek to produce two films by January 2012 via ‘Location’ shooting,” their plan said. “Upon the completion of Camden Studios, the enterprise will start to generate income from studio operations by leasing the premises to various film makers, commercial producers, and still photographers.”

B. D‘Turman‘d became interested in the property late last fall when Ferrell stumbled upon the town’s marketing piece, “Free Land for Jobs,” on Yahoofinance.com. In an attempt to broaden the marketing effort of the town-owned land, the Knox/Waldo Regional Economic Development Council circulated a press release announcing rebates on the land. KWRED also created a website, freelandinmaine.org.

“The beautiful coastal town of Camden, Maine, is offering a 100 percent rebate on a prime site — to the right business,” the release said. “The citizens of Camden have developed an innovative ‘land for jobs’ incentive that will offer a business, that can create good, year-round jobs, a 100 percent rebate on a prime business location. The 3.5-acre site is located in the heart of Camden on the Megunticook River, with commanding views of the mountains, all just blocks away from downtown and the Camden Harbor. It has three-phase power, sewer, water, and cable/broadband all in place — and is zoned to accommodate up to 300 workers and parking all on this site. In addition to the 100 percent rebate, other state incentives are available to the right business.”

The press release was to entice new enterprise and said Camden “is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in all of New England. Each year, thousands of people from all over the world flock to this idyllic spot. Often, at one point during their visit, many can be overheard saying, ‘I’d love to live in a community like this. If there was only some way I could afford to locate my business here.'”

Camden resident Nancy Caudle-Johnson clarified on April 5 that the land, in fact, totals 2.8 acres, a fact that she said she pressed upon the town last fall with no response. She said the town owned .77 acres of land there, pursuant to a 2008 town vote that put ownership of a riverfront corridor in the hands of the town. The establishment of that Riverwalk reduced the lot size available for the Free Land for Jobs from 3.5 to 2.8 acres.

Lynda Clancy can be reached at lclancy@villagesoup.com; 207-236-8511, ext. 304.

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