It’s ‘Lights, camera, South Side,’ as ground breaks on South Shore film studio

Think bigger: The proximity of the proposed studio to the Avalon Theater cries out for a redevelopment plan that includes and improves both locations.

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Two people stand next to a rendering of Regal Chicago Studios during a ground-breaking ceremony at the future site of Regal Mile Studios in a lot at 7824 South Chicago Avenue.

Two people stand next to a rendering of Regal Chicago Studios during a ground-breaking ceremony at the future site of Regal Mile Studios in a lot at 7824 South Chicago Avenue.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and elected officials broke ground earlier this week on a $100 million film studio planned for a long-abandoned wedge of land at 78th Street and South Chicago Avenue.

For the sake of South Shore and the city’s growing film industry, we hope the effort — like an upbeat movie — turns out well in the end.

Said Lightfoot: “This is a big moment of pride.”

‘Activity, jobs and hope’

Chicago already has a major filmmaking facility: the West Side’s Cinespace Studios, which hosts Starz’s “Power Book IV: Force,” and NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Med.”

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And film studios are planned in two of three proposals in a city-led effort to redevelop a portion of the former Central Manufacturing District along West Pershing Road in the McKinley Park neighborhood.

The Regal Mile Studios project promises a nearly 400,000 square foot facility that would include five soundstages, recreational space, a gym and a cafeteria.

During the groundbreaking, Loop Capital Real Estate Partners CEO Jim Reynolds, who is co-leading the studio’s creation, told attendees the aim is to “revitalize this community and bring economic activity, and jobs, and hope back.”

“May it stand as a beacon of life, a symbol of hope of what is possible and an inspiration to all of us,” said Reynolds’s partner on the project, Derek Dudley, producer of Showtime’s “The Chi.”

Think bigger, better

As we would with any ground-breaking held by an incumbent mayor during election season, this editorial board does have a bit of skepticism about the project.

For instance, the transformation promised by the studio leaders is a tall order for any development project, particularly in South Shore, a lakeside diamond-in-the-rough that has been chronically disinvested for more than half a century.

And while the $100 million is considerable, keep in mind that major transformative projects located farther north, such as The 78, are billion-dollar endeavors.

Also, we wonder about the future of the empty Avalon Theater, a 96-year-old, 2,200-seat Moorish-inspired landmark that sits decaying and cash-starved about a block southeast of the planned studio at 79th Street and Stony Island Avenue.

The Avalon Theater sits at the intersection of 79th Street/South Chicago/Stony Island in South Shore, near the site of the Regal Mile Studio.

The Avalon Theater sits at the intersection of 79th Street/South Chicago/Stony Island in South Shore, near the site of the Regal Mile Studio.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The proximity of the two sites — not to mention their related potential uses — cries out for a redevelopment plan that includes and improves both locations.

And maybe an effort to save the Avalon and build Regal Mile Studios would then prompt officials to finally tackle the monster that sits between the two locations: the 79th/Stony Island/South Chicago Avenue intersection, one of the worst in the city.

It’s so bad, moviemakers could make a horror film from footage of vehicles and pedestrians trying to navigate the mammoth crossing.

In short, we want officials and planners to think even bigger and better about this key corner of an important neighborhood.

‘We’re finally here’

Meanwhile, the studio is a potential good start as it seeks to bring jobs and a new industry to the community.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said her office is discussing with public school officials the possibility of creating a training program for union jobs that won’t require college degrees.

That’s a solid idea. And it must become reality if the studio is to be a real leg up for the community.

Of course, the studio and much more is needed to truly improve the economic fortunes to South Shore and other South and West Side communities.

But the facility, as promised, is far better than the small scale, piecemeal stuff that for decades has shamefully passed for redevelopment.

“For 24 years, we’ve been trying to develop this space,” Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said, “and now we’re finally here.”

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