Anthony Mackie, the New Orleans-born actor known for his role as the Falcon in the Marvel comics movie franchise, has bought 20 acres in New Orleans East where he plans to start a movie studio, according to three people familiar with the deal.
Mackie closed Friday on the purchase of the land, on the Interstate 10 Service Road at Read Boulevard, near the Little Woods neighborhood, according to land records.
The actor, 43, who initially trained at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, said through his agent that it was premature to discuss specifics. But several people involved in the months-long negotiation for the land said Mackie intends to site his new production company, East Studios LLC, at the Read Boulevard tract and is looking to buy more space nearby.
Since starting his career more than two decades ago, Mackie has taken on dozens of film and television roles but only recently moved into producing, with credits on films such as “The Banker” and “Outside the Wire.” He is currently executive producer on the upcoming television series “Twisted Metal,” based on the digital game of the same name.
The scope of the planned studio is not yet clear. But if it is an “end to end” operation, which would include the acquisition of intellectual property, development, production and marketing, it would mark a new level for Louisiana’s film and television industry.
A booming industry
Chris Stelly, executive group director of entertainment and digital media at the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, said film and television production is booming in the state after the hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. About 20 movies and television shows are in production in Louisiana now, about half of which are filming in New Orleans.
Stelly said the backed-up production caused by the two-year pandemic was exacerbated by a dash to create original content for several emerging streaming services such as Apple TV+ and Peacock. He expects the New Orleans production calendar to be even busier over the next several years.
Louisiana was one of the first states to introduce a financial incentives program for filmmakers two decades ago, and the state’s share of the industry has grown rapidly since. Last year, companies such as AMC, Disney, OWN and Netflix spent $291 million in Louisiana, including $104 million in payroll, according to the Economic Development Department.
The state’s motion picture production tax credit gives film productions a tax credit of as much as 40% on qualifying spending in the state, up to $150 million, including payroll for both local and out-of-state labor.
Growth of the film business locally has helped spawn state-of-the-art production studios over the past decade, including Starlight Studios, which operates from a 50-acre site near NASA’s Michoud campus in New Orleans East. Also, The Ranch Film Studios and Second Line Stages, most recently entering Swaybox Studios.
Full-fledged studio is the dream
But Stelly said the state agency’s long-term dream has been to persuade a major Hollywood player to site an end-to-end studio in New Orleans.
“We were one of the pioneering states in terms of offering incentives to filmmakers, and we’ve done a great job in terms of building state-of-the-art stages,” he said. “A full-fledged studio where you have everything in-house, that’s the ultimate goal.”
The East Studios initiative is the latest sign of economic life in New Orleans East, which has suffered a long period of economic decline from its heyday in the 1970s, when the area had vibrant commercial areas based on middle-class neighborhoods that grew during the oil boom.
The Mackie site bought is directly across from the former Lake Forest Plaza, which was the largest shopping mall in Louisiana when it was built in 1974. More recently, the old mall site saw a Lowe’s home improvement center move in in 2012 – and depart in 2018.
Mackie’s site, adjacent to a Furniture Mart, has been vacant for more than a decade. The seller, car dealer and real estate developer Matt Bowers, bought the property in 2018 from East Lake Plaza Associates for $2.25 million. He had planned to develop it as a Nissan dealership but gave up when other sites proved more attractive.
Signs of economic revival?
The Mackie site was recorded in public records as selling for $100, but the actual price was somewhere above $2.25 million, according to people involved in the deal. Tellingly, the site sold in 1984 for more than $4.7 million, according to Orleans Parish assessor records.
Other hopes of economic revival in the area include redevelopment of the long-abandoned Jazzland/Six Flags site, about six miles from Mackie’s East Studios site. After many false starts, a consortium led by local businessman Troy Henry was chosen at the end of 2021 to develop that site with a mix of entertainment and light industry. But many details remained to be worked out, including how it might fit with a neighboring project planned by the loser in that bidding contest.
Another major development in the area is led by Mackie’s brother, Calvin Mackie, the former Tulane University engineering professor who is expanding his STEM Nola educational company. Calvin said work on the $10 million STEM Nola hub in New Orleans East has begun but the planned opening date has been pushed into early 2024, after some structural issues were found at the 40,000-square-foot Ochsner Health building that was donated for the project last year.
Other members of the extended Mackie family have been part of efforts at a post-Hurricane Katrina commercial revival in New Orleans East. Mackie’s cousin, Earl, and his wife, Nicole, started Ma Momma’s House of Cornbread, Chicken and Waffles in 2013.
Mackie’s East Studios employees would have a trek of just 1½ miles down Interstate 10 to that restaurant, where the recipes are based on those of Anthony Mackie’s aunt, Willie Mae Mackie.
This story has been edited from an earlier version to add mention of Starlight Studios operating in New Orleans East.