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Kulis is Open for Business

Prime real estate for Alaska film industry


It's been a long-standing rite for Alaskans to try to identify where on earth Alaska-themed movies were filmed. It was seldom in Alaska, although that is changing. And as more movie producers look north, they are seeking support facilities and locations for their productions. The recently shuttered Kulis Air National Guard Base in Anchorage is one location that is generating a lot of interest.

"We have had lots of film producers touring it and looking at it as a good place to base productions in," said Katie Gage, land manager at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. She is in charge of leasing the property.

"We've had quite a bit of interest," she said, adding that she cannot release names of interested parties. "It's looking pretty good."

Home of the Brave
For 50 years, Kulis played a key role in helping keep Alaskans safe. The home of the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard was a shelter and aid distribution center in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. Kulis Guard members deployed to Fairbanks to help that community bail out from the 1967 flood, evacuating many residents to Kulis and flying dozens of loads of food and supplies to the devastated community.

In 1990, the 210th Rescue Squadron was added to Kulis, which strengthened its role as a hub for hundreds of search and rescue missions over the years.

But in 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended Kulis be closed. The 176th Wing moved to new quarters at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in 2011 and the shuttered base was turned over to the State of Alaska. After decades in the military arena, Kulis is now open for civilian business.

Prime Real Estate
"Basically, all comers are welcome," said Wanetta Ayers, division director of the Office of Economic Development. "The airport is taking lease applications and they're engaged in a process of determining what the lease rates will be and about what (the lease) process looks like."

Kulis is a 127-acre facility just south of and adjacent to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities took over the keys to the facility on Sept. 15, which means they will be assuming operating costs for the property. Over time, the property will be used for aviation. But in the short-term, there isn't enough aviation interest for the entire facility, so other uses are being suggested.

The land-use plan recommends the airport offer the properties for long-term lease or sale. The State would retain ownership of the land.

"Properties like this are rare," said Bill Popp, executive director of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. It includes tens of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure on the property, including hangars, office and warehouse facilities, a medical clinic and a dining hall. In all, there are 46 buildings, including a 1963 hangar listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Popp said AEDC's role is to promote the property to national and international companies that may be interested.

"We believe there are multiple potential uses for the property," he said.

Because of its location abutting the Anchorage airport and history of aviation-related activities, the property is largely tagged for aeronautical uses. A land-use plan drawn up by Dowl HKM for the State Transportation Department divides the property into sections based on immediate aeronautical uses and interim uses for areas that won't be feasible for aviation for the next 20 years. Public meetings were held with nearby residents, who expressed some concerns with aircraft noise and traffic impacts. The land-use plan tries to mitigate those issues.

The northwest portion of the site, which is immediately adjacent to the airport, already contains two large hangars, parking space for large airplanes and other facilities ideal for aviation use. The northeast corner of the property would be available for aeronautical use within the next 20 years.

Film Industry Interest
The south side of the property is being eyed for short-term uses. Gage said private companies and State and federal agencies looking to consolidate their offices in Anchorage have been interested in the southern portion of the property, which includes three office buildings and a warehouse.

"We have a number of film productions that are considering Alaska as a film venue, but their productions are contingent on a soundstage being there," Ayers said.

Although a couple of producers expressed concern about the noise levels in a soundstage because of the nearness of the airport, Ayers said others have indicated the levels are acceptable.

Ayers said Alaska's Film Production Incentive Program is generating a lot interest from producers, who would need facilities to build sets, provide meals, house offices and for many other tasks. Kulis is ideal for the creation of a film campus.

"All of them are essentially large buildings with clear spans, with no columns interrupting the space, and ceiling heights in excess of 30 feet," Ayers said. "Those are features that are very attractive to the film industry."

The State film production incentives provide up to 44 percent transferable tax credits to qualifying projects. In the meantime, word is getting out about Alaska as a movie location.

Sean Penn's 2007 movie "Into the Wild" featured sweeping scenics of Interior Alaska. The movie, "Big Miracle" (titled "Everybody Loves Whales" initially), starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski, was filmed on location in Anchorage in 2010. Another movie, "Frozen Ground," starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens started filming in Anchorage in October. A movie based on "The Cruelest Miles" about the Nome diphtheria epidemic is slated to begin filming in 2012.

All three productions need the proper facilities, Ayers said, and Kulis is ideal.

"Those producers are at least talking to Alaska as a venue," she said. "The productions have been coming to us to find the facilities they need."

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.

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