Milan studio to break ground soon

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ROME -- Work on a new studio and cinema complex on the site of an abandoned tobacco plant in Milan will start before the end of the month, organizers said Friday, with the project expected to be open for business in 2010.

The controversial €305 million ($427 million) project was given the go-ahead after the area around the former Manifattura Tabacchi facilities was re-zoned to allow for the construction. The tobacco plant has been closed since 1999.

Backed by the Milan municipal government, Pirelli Real Estate and about two-dozen smaller partners, the new studio will be a direct competitor to Rome's Cinecitta, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Cinecitta has been home to most of the important films made in Italy, such as "Ben Hur," "Cleopatra" and "Roman Holiday."

The plan has attracted some controversy locally, as it plays on the traditional rivalry between Italy's wealthy northern regions that include Milan and the southern and central parts of the country, where the capital and Cinecitta are located.

But the plan is developing as Cinecitta and many other established studios in Western Europe are finding themselves caught in a crunch between more technologically advanced studios in the U.S. and less expensive rivals in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

According to the information released Friday, the development budget is guaranteed up to €250 million ($350 million), with the rest to be added after work begins.

In a new aspect to the plans, the 900,000 square foot complex will include more than just back lots and film production facilities as announced in August: It will also include a small film school, archives, cinemas, a shopping area and apartment blocks.

Though the project is not expected to be completed before 2010, organizers said that some parts of the complex -- including some film production facilities -- could be operational before the end of next year.
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