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Silvercup, Kaufman sweat end of tax break

Western Queens studio heads said they hope to keep the cameras rolling after a tax credit that has brought movies and television productions back to New York City in droves recently ran out of money.

Two of the city’s largest film and television studios are located in western Queens, including Long Island City’s Silvercup Studios and Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Alan Suna, chief executive officer of Silvercup, said two shows — “Gossip Girl” and “Ugly Betty” — are covered through their next season, which will begin shooting at the studio this spring. But the studio has not signed any new TV shows or movies, which could prevent Silvercup from moving forward on its massive $1 billion expansion project that would include eight soundstages, a waterfront pavilion and 1,000 apartment units.

“It’s a big concern,” he said. “Right now, we have not signed a single pilot. And there’s no guarantee that shows we already have will stay if we do not have the tax credit.”

City and state programs can offer tax credits that cover up to 35 percent of production expenditures, as long as film and television productions complete a majority of their shooting in New York.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D−Astoria) said the tax credits have lured film productions back to the city and state in record numbers. Films and TV shows had previously fled the city’s high costs to shoot in Canada, Chicago or Los Angeles.

Gianaris said the city’s entertainment industry is one of the few that has been doing well despite the national economic downturn.

“This was an idea that government had that worked beyond our wildest expectations,” he said of the tax credits. “We saved an industry in New York. So it’s more important than ever to keep the job stability that the program created. This program involves spending money to get back a lot more money. A dollar invested yields back double that amount to state coffers.”

The tax credit program was set to expire in 2013, but ran out of money earlier this year. Gianaris said he believed that the state Legislature and Gov. David Paterson would recognize the importance of the program and allocate money for it. The deadline for the state budget is April 1.

Western Queens studio executives said the city provided backdrops for 19 new pilots last year, but there are none so far in 2009.

“They’re not going to come if there’s no tax cut,” said Hal Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria. “This program has made the argument to stay in New York. The unions will tell you they are fully employed. The studios have all been booked. The impact on local communities has been enormous. It’s a no−brainer.”

Rosenbluth said the shows filming at his studio have fulfilled the criteria for the tax credit. But once the production season at Kaufman ends later this spring, the shows will be forced to decide whether they plan to stay in the city.

He said his studio plans to move forward with a $20 million expansion project that includes a new soundstage and support. The project, which broke ground in October, would also eventually close off a portion of 36th Street in Astoria to allow for the creation of a studio lot.

But Suna said Silvercup will not break ground on its $1 billion expansion if the state’s tax credit program is discontinued.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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