Film studio proposed at vacant eastern Pa. brewery

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A filmmaker is talking with eastern Pennsylvania officials about the idea of turning a vacant Allentown brewery into a state-of-the-art movie studio that would allow production of films ranging from independent documentaries to blockbusters

The complex at the former Neuweiler Brewery on 40 to 50 acres of land along the Lehigh River is being proposed by Mango Cross Media, owned by filmmaker Robert Manganelli, and would be developed by Ashley Development Corp. Manganelli said the studio would be "a self-contained city within a city".

"Filmmakers are always seeking low cost, high quality and efficiency," he said in a statement, according to The (Allentown) Morning Call. "The Lehigh Valley has all of those things. With the close proximity to New York and historic feel, it's the perfect location."

Pete Reinke, vice president of regional development with Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp., said the area offers comparatively lower costs as well as close proximity to Philadelphia and New York City.

"We're not a cheap alternative," said Reinke. "But we're a less expensive alternative, and I think companies are noticing."

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski called the plan "a fantastic proposal" to bring a new industry to the region.

"The spin-off possibilities in the film industry are enormous," he said in a statement.

State Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said the complex would take advantage of tax incentives from the Allentown Riverfront Neighborhood Improvement Zone, where state and local taxes generated - except real estate taxes - can be used to pay for development.

"It's an ambitious plan on a piece of property that's seen no activity for decades," Browne said. "It's exactly what the NIZ was designed to create."

Manganelli said the master plan calls for a 1.6-million-square-foot campus, , including the studio office, production facilities and outdoor filming lots. Mango Cross Media, co-owner Andrew Twiggar said the studio plan would leave room for the mixed use commercial/residential development that his firm hopes to build along the waterfront in a partnership with developer Mark Jaindl.

Bethlehem officials said Manganelli and his partners considered the former Bethlehem Steel site, but those talks broke down last year.

Since the Pennsylvania Film Office was opened, the commonwealth has hosted 72 feature films, 143 television productions, 37 commercials and six documentaries, according to a 2011 report by the office.

Manganelli, a former resident of the Lehigh Valley, said that the studio proposal has personal meaning for him.

"I am a native of the Lehigh Valley," he said in an email. "It's been my dream to bring my passion for filmmaking back to my roots."

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