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New entertainment fund hopes to bring big TV, film to Tucson

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 5:42 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A major food TV show and production company are interested in filming in Tucson—something local leaders say could bring big bucks to the area. While exactly what show and production company is still under wraps, Tucson is making historical moves to bring them here.

Gone are the hay days of westerns filmed in Southern Arizona, along with many major film and TV production.

“Arizona, Tucson and Pima County in general, are a little bit behind all the time because we don’t have film incentives. We’re competing with New Mexico on these things all the time,” said Dan Gibson, senior director of communications for Visit Tucson.

There have been some big projects over the last year in the Tucson such as Love and Hip Hop, The Best Baker in America and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Rio Nuevo said with the success of those shows, at least two other production companies are interested in the Old Pueblo—one a “leading food television series,” and the other a film production company.

“These are big name networks, and it’s a great time to highlight Tucson,” said Edmund Marquez, a board director of Rio Nuevo.

Marquez said these could bring millions, if not tens of millions of dollars to Tucson. The problem, however, is Arizona has no tax incentives or grants for the film industry. Our neighboring states have hefty incentives such as enticing moviemakers and television production. Netflix recently put a major studio in New Mexico because tax incentives are offered there.

“It’s really the only thing that matters,” said Gibson. “They will change a script that says a destination to make it about somewhere that will work in New Mexico because of incentives.”

Rio Nuevo unanimously passed a new entertainment fund Thursday, Sept. 9. It puts aside $500,000 for production costs for film and TV projects producing in Tucson.

“State of Arizona tax credits for film sunsetted years ago, and state legislature has not put it back into play,” said Marquez. “So, this is an awesome opportunity… it’s focused on downtown, and it’s focused obviously within out district, which extends down Broadway, and it has to generate sales tax within our district.”

Productions will get funds based on the sales tax they spend in Tucson. The fund is paid for with non-tip revenue Rio Nuevo generates from regular business. Other than the state’s Reel Savings program that offers no fee, applications for permits on state roads and parks and other discounts, this is the only competitive incentive to bring in the cameras.

“It does allow us to have some opportunities, that would help us chase projects,” said Gibson.

According to Visit Tucson, last fiscal year, film and television generated $6.4 million dollars of direct spending and brought nearly nine-thousand room nights to hotels.

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