West Orange Council Takes Crucial Vote On Movie Studio Proposal

WEST ORANGE, NJ — A crucial step towards bringing a new movie studio to West Orange took place at this week’s town council meeting – but not everyone is happy about it.

On Tuesday, the council voted 3-2 to approve a redevelopment agreement with MDGA – West Orange Downtown Redevelopment LLC, which has offices at the Matrix Development Group in Monroe Township. The company will now get a crack at developing one of the town’s most high-profile real estate projects in years.

Michelle Casalino, Bill Rutherford and Tammy Williams voted in favor of the agreement. Asmeret Ghebremicael and Susan Scarpa voted against it.

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Watch the full meeting video online here.

West Orange is the home of the world’s first film production studio, a legacy that may soon spread its wings again in the township. See Related: Film Studio Proposal In West Orange Poised To Take Big Leap Forward

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The agreement approved Tuesday paves the way for MDGA to build a film studio on 12.2 acres of property within the town’s Film Services Overlay District. It will be located next to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in downtown West Orange, directly behind the Edison Lofts on Main Street – the last surviving building of Thomas Edison’s laboratory complex.

The town, which owns the involved properties, has agreed to sell them to the redeveloper for $10,833,600.

According to the development agreement, the new film studio “will not adversely impact” its historically significant neighbor.

Here’s what to expect, town officials previously said:

“The studio use is estimated to be between 150,000 and 350,000 square feet. It will include between three and six production stages ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 square feet each. Each production stage will be serviced by on site production services, including but not limited to grip and electric, equipment, props, set building, location catering, cleaning service and security. The facility will also include office and support space as well as parking to accommodate between 200 to 400 cars and 30 to 60 trucks. Once fully operational, it is anticipated 300 to 600 new full-time jobs will be created as a result of the studio use.”

Supporting documents for the project can be seen at the below links:

The project now enters a “due diligence period,” where MDGA will have to flesh out project details, finalize a purchase and sale agreement for the township properties, and check into the current environmental conditions at the property – which it bears the full cost of remediating, if needed.

In exchange for the exclusive development rights, MDGA will pay West Orange $200,000, which will be returned if it can’t get a purchase and sale agreement across the finish line during the initial due diligence period – with an extension possible at the cost of another $200,000.

West Orange isn’t the only municipality in New Jersey that has seen a development proposal for a movie studio in recent years.

In 2022, Great Point Studios and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center announced a new partnership with Lionsgate. The goal? To build a massive film production facility in Newark. See Related: Lionsgate Will Get Extra Tax Breaks To Make Movies, Shows In Newark

However, unlike the Lionsgate studio in Newark, the studio in West Orange doesn’t have a production company attached yet – a point that some council members questioned Tuesday evening, and which the developer addressed (watch the video below, cued to the discussion).

The council also discussed what might happen in the event of a “force majeure” situation, where the developer might be faced with insurmountable challenges beyond their control. Read More: West Orange Restaurant Closes, Cites ‘Force Majeure’


The proposed movie studio has seen support from several West Orange officials, including Mayor Susan McCartney, who thanked Rutherford – the council liaison to the project – and the other council members for their time.

“We are excited for this project that will help move West Orange forward economically speaking for generations to come,” McCartney said prior to the meeting.

“A film studio in downtown West Orange is the most appropriate historic location in the world and will bring prosperity to the town just as Thomas Edison did in the late 1880s,” she added. “This will provide our town and its stakeholders financial stability that will positively impact our business owners, residents and local economy.”

“This could be an amazing addition to our town!” a commenter eagerly agreed on social media.

Another supporter of the proposal, senator-elect and former West Orange mayor John McKeon, attended the Nov. 20 town council meeting to advocate for the deal. Read More: Film Studio Development Proposal Discussed In West Orange (VIDEO)

Other West Orange community members have been less optimistic about the proposal, however, with some criticizing both the agreement and the council’s oversight of the project.

“New Jersey redevelopment law requires that prior to choosing a redeveloper for a parcel of land, the council must adopt a redevelopment plan,” local nonprofit advocacy group Our Green West Orange said Monday.

“Yet, this week the council is being asked to vote to hand over our downtown redevelopment area to Matrix Development Company without having first presented a real plan,” the group contended. “Matrix has only presented an outline that floats the possibility of a film studio.”

The proposed sale is $1.7 million dollars less than what West Orange paid for the properties, the group said, adding that a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement may be a possibility for the developer.

The council would have to hold a separate vote to approve a PILOT agreement for the developer at a future meeting.

Criticism of the agreement and the approval process continued at Tuesday’s council meeting, which stretched late into the night – despite an 11 p.m. cutoff time imposed by a mayoral order in June. Read More: West Orange Mayor Issues Order In Wake Of Marathon Council Meetings

Several residents grilled the council about the movie studio project early in the meeting (see below video, cued to their comments).

As the clock ticked past 11 p.m., several other people were lined up to speak, some regarding the movie studio proposal and others on separate issues, including the Israel-Hamas war. But when public comment was delayed so the council could make their way through the rest of the agenda – over the objections of some council members – the crowd of people waiting to speak visibly grew frustrated.

At one point, council president Williams asked a police officer to escort some of the crowd from the building, and ordered the doors to the council chambers closed (watch the video below).

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