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New steam for film dream
Butler say bills could help Calhoun project for downtown Decatur performing arts center

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Calhoun Community College’s dream of a downtown Decatur performing arts center could get new life through legislation, says an area senator.

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, introduced legislation last week that he said may draw the film industry to the area and spark its interest in the program.

“There is an untapped resource for jobs and development of the film industry for Alabama,” Butler said. “People in Alabama work in the field, but they often have to leave the state to do so.”

In other states with similar programs, the lawmaker said, the industry is thriving.

Butler said his new bill, SB 140, adds certain film productions to the list of businesses and industries qualified to apply for state tax incentives, if they come to Alabama.

He also introduced related legislation in SB 146 to renew lodging and related tax exemptions for production companies making movies or other commercial films in Alabama while they have crews in the state.

The tax exemption previously in effect expired in 2006. A version of Butler’s bill to renew the exemption cleared the Senate, but died in a backlog of bills in the House on the last night of the 2006 regular session.

Incentives

With the incentives his new bill offers and a renewal of the bill exempting lodging and related taxes, Butler said, movie production companies and related industries will have an interest in Alabama and the Decatur area.

In 2006, Calhoun Community College President Marilyn Beck and Decatur civic leaders discussed a plan to expand Calhoun’s performing arts program to downtown Decatur in the Princess Theatre area. The combination of a performance center, classroom space and attraction for restaurants and related businesses to locate in the area appealed to community leaders.

Former two-year college Chancellor Roy Johnson promised his support for the project. Johnson promised to work with Decatur and Calhoun to develop and help fund the project. When the state Board of Education fired Johnson last summer, the performing arts project lost steam.

Butler believes attracting the film industry could rejuvenate the area’s dream.

“This would be good for Calhoun, good for Decatur and good for Alabama,” Butler said.

He sees Calhoun and downtown Decatur involved in two ways.

As an educational center, Calhoun could train students as film technicians, production crew members and in other fields related to the film and entertainment industry, Butler said. As a performing arts center, the Calhoun-downtown Decatur complex could provide the source for students to cut their performing arts teeth. Butler believes the college could develop space for large movie sets and production headquarters sites.

Butler sees the opportunity for Alabama students to train as actors, technical crewmembers, producers, scriptwriters and other related careers.

He said Alabamians already work in such fields, but students trained with new techniques would help attract production companies to the state in greater numbers. Butler said the state needs more Alabamians trained to work with films. If companies do not have to bring in and house production crews from other states, the cost of producing films in Alabama will go down.

“There is a lot of opportunity for jobs from throughout the state with this,” Butler said.

He said Calhoun has other advantages for such a project, including an airport adjacent to its main campus.

Calhoun spokeswoman Janet Martin said Beck is still interested in the downtown project, but was traveling and unavailable for comment. Martin said Beck mentioned the project to Gov. Bob Riley at his January visit to the campus.

“The whole idea of the downtown project was as a community development project,” Martin said. “Dr. Beck stressed that it has to be a community initiative, something the community leaders as well as the college wants.

Other Butler bills

Among the bills Sen. Tom Butler introduced during the regular session:

  • SB 137 sets criminal penalties for employees of public K-12 schools to have sexual intercourse, deviant sexual intercourse and some other types of sexual contract with a someone enrolled in public school. The bill would not apply for school employees who are married to someone enrolled in public school. Butler filed the bill in 2006, but the measure did not pass.

  • B 138 gives cities and counties and public transit authorities authority to jointly purchase and operate metropolitan public transportation systems, firefighting services, law enforcement services and public works. The bill also enables the groups to enter into interstate agreements for such services with other states.

    M.J. Ellington

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