SHERIDAN — A new business aims to bring the film industry to Sheridan.

Story House Inc. presented its business plan at the Sheridan Economic and Educational Development Authority board meeting Tuesday with the intent of asking SEEDA to contribute to the project through a grant submission on behalf of the business to the Wyoming Business Council.

Story House Inc. collaborators have a multi-faceted business plan that includes purchasing or leasing U.S. Forest Service land east of the Sheridan Veterans Affairs Health Care System to erect a film studio complete with sound stages and film production areas, a public park, access road and a subdivision for workforce and artist housing, which includes housing for the Veteran Village, a project started in 2020 to erect housing for homeless veterans in Sheridan County. 

Story House Inc. President and Founder Sean Patrick Higgins said Story House, when established fully, would be a sort of “philanthropic big brother” to the veteran-focused nonprofit, which fits into the film studio’s business model of hiring 25% veterans, families of veterans and displaced energy workers.

“With sound stages worldwide currently at 95% capacity, Story House Inc. is well-positioned to capture a significant portion of a robust pipeline,” Higgins said. “Story House Inc. is an investment in the highly skilled, experienced and diverse founding team committed to bringing green, new industry to Wyoming, helping to mitigate the economy’s dependency on nonrenewable resources.”

Higgins promised a creation of 435 or more full-time jobs for the community, coming from local hires and out-of-state hires for the more experienced positions — like actors from traditional film-heavy areas of the nation, like Los Angeles. In addition, educational opportunities in the form of internships and on-the-job training to benefit students at Sheridan College may also be available.

SEEDA’s responsibility would include submitting a grant to the Wyoming Business Council for partial funding of the project and the access road, estimated at 39 feet.

While Higgins said the business plan was already submitted in full to the Wyoming Business Council, WBC Regional Director Brandi Harlow said there are some gaps in the business plan, and first steps for the project include submitting a complete business plan and securing private funding dollars to hoist the project before SEEDA can apply for grant and loan funds on behalf of the business. 

The financial structure, as presented by Higgins Tuesday, is as follows: 

  • Private equity: $12 million; 
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development One Guarantee Program at 2.5%: $5 million; 
  • SEEDA WBC Business Ready Community Site Ready Infrastructure and Development grants and loans, $4.5 million; 
  • WBC and commercial bank committed business large project loans with blended rate at 1%-3.25%, $25 million. 

Following those initial steps, acquiring the land itself relies on government timing, specifically approving, ideally, a land sale or, if needed, a long-term land lease from the USFS to Story House Inc. 

Higgins said the paperwork has been returned to the Denver USFS office from the Washington, D.C., office, but they’re a small item on a much larger list of land sale acquisitions currently taking place in Colorado. Despite that, Higgins noted Story House Inc. has had extensive discussions with Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Andrew Johnson and other staff over the last year and Higgins expressed confidence in the project moving forward.

Phase one of the project includes film studio construction starting in 2023, with bidding starting in the winter of 2022. SEEDA Administrator Robert Briggs said the organization could potentially submit grant applications in May 2022, thus starting the construction bidding process

Before any of the proposed plans can move forward, Harlow said, a complete business plan must be submitted to the WBC and private equity secured, in addition to acquisition of the USFS land, Sheridan Mayor Rich Bridger noted.

While SEEDA’s next regularly scheduled meeting occurs in January 2022, Briggs may call for an additional special meeting to solidify details on the Story House Inc. project in November. No action was taken on the project by SEEDA members Tuesday.

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