Picture it: Newberry studio is outlined

Published: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 2:30 a.m.

NEWBERRY - In an event that was as glittery as the town gets, plans for a proposed movie and television studio were unveiled Thursday night by a Gainesville woman with film industry connections who said she is hunting for investors for the project.

Springtree Studios was billed as the "future of North Florida" by Patricia Crawford, who wants to build the 200-plus-acre entertainment complex.

Crawford acknowledged a key question about the project, and answered it as cryptically as a Hollywood mystery.

"Will it happen?" Crawford said. ""The answer is, what unforeseen circumstances will happen that will hamper this project. I have committed all of my time, resources and energy to this project. If in 10 years this (is built), you will have your answer."

Crawford said she does not yet have the money for the studio, but added she hopes to break ground on the site just north of Newberry off U.S. 27 and be open for business in three years.

"To say we have the funding - nah, we're not there yet," she said. "We have to do a lot of fund raising. We have to see if it is a match for Newberry and if the investors want to invest in it. If all it took was a little eye-blinking and nose-twitching, we would all have facial tics right now."

The presentation was held before an estimated crowd of 500 in the Oak View Middle School cafetorium. Tickets were handed out to Newberry residents, and some expressed an interest in the job opportunities the complex presents.

Crawford did not say how much the project would cost. She said it would be at least 18 months until final plans are made.

The facility would encompass more than 2.1 million square feet. It would include studios, a performing arts theater, an amphitheater, classrooms, sets including replicas of London and Paris, special effects capabilities, restaurants and other features.

"I'd really like a parting of the waters. I deserve it," Crawford said of a special effects attraction. "Stay in my good stead and you will be able to walk through, too."

Several general partners were cited, including Santa Fe Community College. Crawford said SFCC would develop curriculum for an associate's degree and a certification course at the studio.

Crawford said people who have worked for studios and film companies in Orlando have helped on the project.

Considerable time was spent by Crawford introducing and thanking friends, family and associates, some of whom she said work in the film industry.

More than a dozen audience members walked out as the presentation continued, but Crawford got a standing ovation from the crowd when the presentation was over.

Crawford took some questions from the audience. Several asked when jobs will be available and expressed interest in the educational programs that Crawford plans to offer.

Also in the audience were Alachua County commissioners, city officials from throughout the county, Florida Film Commissioner Susan Albertshardt and officials with various government agencies.

"All I can say is that anybody who is anybody in Alachua County is here tonight," County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said. She thanked Crawford for her tenacity in pursuing a dream for the complex.

Restrictions were placed on the crowd. No photography or voice recordings were supposed to be made. One newspaper reporter said her bags were checked before she was allowed in. A security officer ordered a Gainesville Sun reporter to put her tape recorder in her bag or face ejection.

Crawford has not discussed the project with the news media or answered any questions from reporters. Organizers said before the start of the program that Crawford would meet with reporters afterward, but she did not. When reporters tried to ask Crawford questions, she was hustled out of the cafetorium by associates.

Crawford says she has worked as a film actor and producer. She also said she worked for Ted Turner, founder of several television networks including WTBS and CNN.

But Crawford has a history of projects not going as planned.

She initially proposed building the studio in 1998 in the SpringHills development at Interstate 75 and NW 39th Avenue. It never came to fruition.

Crawford in 2001 was sued for nonpayment of more than $9,300 in credit card expenses by Chase Manhattan Bank. The court file includes documents about a proposed film, "Unbridled Heart," that was supposed to be shot in Marion County starting in winter 2002 but has yet to be made.

Also in the court file are allegations by Crawford against a now defunct New York film production company, Angel Face Productions Inc.

Crawford alleges Angel Face misappropriated at least $45,000 put up by investors in "Unbridled Heart" and lied about its abilities to produce the film. Crawford wrote to the judge in the Chase Manhattan suit that she could not pay the debt because of the Angel Face allegations.

In the proposed movie, "A shy, sheltered woman discovers love and self-esteem when she assembles a misfit polo team to beat her thieving ex-husband and take back all he stole from her," according to the "log line" - or movie description - in court documents.

Listed as director was Christopher Cain, whose credits include "Young Guns." Potential actors were Vanessa Williams, Lou Diamond Phillips and Harry Connick Jr.

It was to be filmed in part at The Villages, a mega development in southern Marion County and Lake County. Documents indicate The Villages was to get 10 percent ownership of the movie.

Documents show Crawford contacted the FBI, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, former U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman and others about Angel Face.

An official with the SEC said it has no history of action against Angel Face. An FBI official familiar with Crawford's allegation could not be reached for comment.

Angel Face never made a single movie and is now defunct, former company President Harriet Marks said.

Marks said she was not aware of Crawford's allegations, had never been contacted by a regulatory agency and described the allegations as laughable.

She said Angel Face never misappropriated money from Crawford or supposed investors in "Unbridled Heart" but did get a letter of credit from a bank on behalf of the movie.

"We were a brand new production company. She told the people she was making a movie and . . . she wanted us to produce the movie. She told us that she got investors to put up the money," Marks said. "We just ran away from her. She would scream and yell on the phone at us to the point where you would just hang up. I didn't know what to think. I never met her. It was just a voice on the phone.

"She harasses people to death."

Potential investors in Springtree Studios are set to tour the site and other scenic county locations today with Crawford and officials from the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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