Coming Attraction: A Silver Screen Theme Park from Sun Center Studios
Aston, Pa. is getting ready for its close-up, with a silver-screen theme park attraction planned by Sun Center Studios. Sun Center is a tax credit supported film and television production studio that has been thriving. Recent major film productions shot at the studio have included Glass, Split, Creed, and The Visit; the facility also hosts commercial production, with spots for Arby’s and Mountain Dew filmed at this location.
The proposal is for a 90,000-square-foot theme park at the site of its production location, the East Coast adjunct to Universal Studios. An application proposal from the studio includes both indoor and outdoor attractions, retail, dining, live entertainment venues, plus a 175-room hotel and an underground parking garage to accommodate visitors and hotel guests. The attraction would focus on the experience of a television and film studio, rather than on thrill rides, although if Sun Center plans to follow the Universal Studios trajectory, it could very well eventually include such offerings.
The studio facility itself opened in early 2011, and has lived up to what CEO Jeffrey B. Rotwitt describes as a “major attraction for the film and television industry…the temporary home for major film makers, television shows, and a broad range of motion picture projects.”
Projects that qualify for filming with Sun Center Studios receive a 30 percent tax credit, using that credit as a stimulus to draw productions to Pennsylvania. The goal is to shape Pennsylvania into a production hub that is a major economic asset, much as the state of Georgia has done over the years.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s deputy secretary for tourism, film, and marketing, J. Mickey Rowley, “The film tax credit in Pennsylvania helps us compete against other cities and states that offer similar incentives to the film industry.” Rowley notes that “… places like Sun Center Studios can provide tremendous returns by generating hundreds of good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages and benefits for Pennsylvania citizens.”
The studio facility is located near the Philadelphia International Airport and I-95, a convenient location for out of state production companies, and potentially for tourists to access.
Even at its beginning as a production facility, Rotwitt suggested that “We also envision Sun Center Studios as a major tourist destination not only in the Greater Philadelphia region but along the entire I-95 corridor -- a place where visitors from near and far can learn about how movies and television shows are made, and enjoy educational exhibits and back-lot tours.”
It appears that plan may soon come to fruition. The theme park proposal states that along with an indoor, movie-centric series of attractions, it would also include an outdoor area with retail, dining, live entertainment and water fountain shows, according to an application the company filed with Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The company is seeking $7.5 million in taxpayer-backed funds from the Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) to serve as the support the project.
In 2017, Rotwitt said his long-term plans included “a large outdoor concert venue, themed retail shopping, and a hotel”, along with “an indoor Disneyland-like tourist park.” He stated that the company had carefully researched the idea and felt ready to begin, saying that “The East Coast is ripe for this type of attraction.” In short, film studio theme parks are poised to no longer be the purview of Orlando and Hollywood alone.
He noted that the attraction would feature advanced technology geared toward today’s sophisticated theme park audience, at least in part because the company has had a late start in a marketplace packed with growing capabilities to translate theme park magic – and motion picture magic, as well.
As originally envisioned, the studio would include two movie theaters with capabilities for 3-D and 4-D presentations, and two fully-enclosed back-lot streets that would allow visitors to walk through Hollywood studio-type sets. Sun Center Studios also viewed these back-lot streets as an evening event venue for parties, dinners, and large scale celebrations; food and beverage service for such events would be handled by Pennsylvania-headquartered food service behemoth Aramark, and one of the region’s top caterers, Feastivities.
Sun Center Studios theme park and attractions would be created on 25 acres of land near the studios’ current facilities, which currently take up approximately 70,000 square feet in Delaware County.
The facility has 40,000 square feet of sound stages and 30,000 square feet of productions offices.
The company has a reputation for forward-thinking and innovation, including a commitment to sustainability in its buildings with smart-grid technology programs and a 216-kilowatt solar energy system, the largest solar project in Delaware County. Adam Rotwitt, Senior Vice President of Sun Center Studios remarks of that venture that “We believe our studio will serve as a role model for other local Pennsylvania businesses as well as companies operating in the film and television industry.”
As it prepares to enter the theme park arena, Sun Center Studios continues to break new and fertile ground for expansion and a commitment to serving both the Pennsylvania region and a nationwide audience. Stay tuned: this coming attraction is sure to raise the curtain on the filmmaking process.