Construction Starts on City's First Outdoor Film Lot at Kaufman Astoria

By Jeanmarie Evelly on July 22, 2013 4:42pm 

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 The backlot at Kaufman Astoria Studios closed off 36th St. between 34th and 35th Avenues in Queens.
Kaufman Astoria Studios Starts Construction on Backlot
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ASTORIA — A city block in Queens is about to get the Hollywood treatment.

Construction began last week on the backlot at Kaufman Astoria Studios, shutting down 36th Street between 34th and 35th Avenues in Astoria to make way for the city's first and only outdoor film set.

"This has been something that we've been wanting to do for a long time," said Kaufman Astoria president Hal Rosenbluth.

"For us, it is a piece of the pie that creates an iconic symbol for the campus, to allow the cultural development we've done here to be sustained."

The 34,800 square-foot lot is the result of a deal between the Economic Development Corp., which leases the street space from the city, and the Kaufman Astoria Studios, which is sub-leasing the property from the EDC.

The new space will allow production companies to shoot realistic outdoor scenes and stunts in the convenience of a studio setting.

"That hasn't really happened in New York, because it hasn’t primarily existed," said Rosenbluth, adding that the backlot will mean less traffic and parking disruptions caused by movie sets that are currently forced to shoot on the streets instead.

While the city approved the de-mapping of 36th Street in 2011, the roadway was open to traffic until last week, when a chain link fence and wooden barriers went up on both sides of the block.

"I'm a little upset that the parking might become more difficult," said Parker Dayo, 47, who works at a real estate office around the block from the site.

"But, honestly, if it employs some unemployed people, that's fantastic," he added.

Kaufman Astoria Studios, which opened in 1920, has long been considered the economic anchor for the commercial corridor along Astoria's 35th Avenue.

"It has always been, for us, more than just renting a stage it has been the idea of what we can do for the whole campus," Rosenbluth said, saying that when he joined the company in 1980, the buildings surrounding the studio were largely abandoned.

Over the years, the studios have been credited for drawing a number of artsy neighbors, including the nearby Museum of the Moving Image, the Astoria Performing Arts Center, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and the Queens Council on the Arts.

Even the local beer garden, Studio Square, pays homage to Kaufman Astoria with its name.

"Our need and desire was to make this community thrive again," Rosenbluth said. 

Officials have touted the city's film industry as a big economic driver, responsible for 130,000 jobs and billions of dollars in revenue each year, according to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting.

Rosenbluth said every major film production brings business to the area. Countless big-name movies and television shows have been filmed at the studios over the years, including "Sesame Street," "Nurse Jackie" and "Men in Black 3," according to the studios' website.

Rodolfo Garcia, 29, who works down the street from Kaufman Astoria, said he thinks the new backlot will help make the neighborhood a destination for the hip and artistic set.

"It'll add some glitz and glamor," he said.

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