Promised government support for Wānaka mega film studio dropped

by Kim Bowden - Feb 01, 2024

A multi-million-dollar commitment by Wellington decision makers to underwrite Silverlight Studio's ambitious film park project in Wānaka has been withdrawn.

In March last year then regional development minister Kiri Allan announced the government would underwrite the project to the tune of $4.5 million, but the deal is now off the table.

Paul Swallow, investment director at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, says delays in the start of construction mean the underwrite agreement was never put in place and is no longer available to the company.

Silverlight Studios' head Mike Wallis with former regional development minister Kiri Allan in Cromwell after the announcement of a $4.5m loan to support the establishment of a film studio in Wānaka, March 2023.

It is back to square one for Silverlight Studios, with Mr Swallow confirming the company would need to apply for funding from an appropriate government fund to receive any tax-payer funded support.

He says the company is still pursuing its development near Wānaka and remains in contact about the project with Kānoa – the Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit that sits within the ministry.

Mike Wallis, the co-founder and majority shareholder in Silverlight Studios, told Crux at last year's announcement the government underwrite would help provide confidence to investors.

Then, he was hopeful "phase zero" at the Wānaka site - three quick-build modular soundstages - would be completed by mid 2024.

He said it was "an easier, more palatable lead-in" to to the bigger vision.

Plans given green light in December 2021 after a fast-tracked resource consent process include an 11-hectare artificial lake and replicas of New York's Central Park and the canals of Venice, as well as 10 sound stages and a film school.

Last week Mr Wallis showed new Waitaki MP Miles Anderson around the site.

Talking with Crux after the visit, Mr Anderson said Silverlight Studios is seeking investor support in what is a challenging climate.

"I am going to see what I can do to assist the best I can."

Silverlight Studios majority shareholder Mike Wallis with Waitaki MP Miles Anderson, at the site of the company's proposed mega film studio in Wānaka (Image: Facebook/Miles Anderson for Waitaki).

He said any government investment in the future would require a return for the taxpayer.

While a Taika Waititi project is rumoured to be using the Silverlight Studios property from next week for approximately ten days of filming, with some temporary buildings being constructed for it, Crux understands no other construction work has begun at the site. 

The original $4.5 million underwrite to Silverlight Studios was funded through the Queenstown Economic Transformation and Resilience Fund, aimed at supporting diversification beyond tourism.

Crux has attempted to contact Mr Wallis for comment.

Read more: Fence, signage...action, finally, at Silverlight Studios?

Main image (Tilt Architecture): Silverlight Studios' grand plans for the former rural property on the Wānaka-Luggate Highway.




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