Developer Seeks To Build Movie Studio In Windsor

As Thomas DeFranzo sees it, the biggest obstacle between him and his Hollywood dream is obscurity.

"No one knows we're here," he said of an enterprise he calls Windsor Worldwide Studios. "That's the biggest thing."

He is less concerned that the movie production studios don't exist yet, except as an immense warehouse-like space originally built for dirt bike racing. The town of Windsor has already approved a conversion of the former home of Mototown USA to a 1 million square-foot-plus complex outfitted for start-to-finish filmmaking and a private-use hotel with up to 300 rooms."This is going to be a city by the time we're done," said DeFranzo, who is known as Tommy. "Essentially, we would have a city making movies in one area."

DeFranzo spent $15 million to develop the Day Hill Road site for Mototown, which shut down in April 2008 after less than two years. A builder and Windsor native, he said he has already spent $600,000 on planning for a project that could cost, he estimates, between $100 million and $200 million.

"If someone wanted to write me a check, that's what they would be writing it for," he said.

Situated on a 60-acre site, the former motocross venue, more than 200,000 square feet, is attached to a small shopping plaza. A Gold's Gym, Dunkin' Donuts and Blimpie's still operate in adjacent retail spaces.

DeFranzo, who recently led several Windsor Town Council members and other guests on a tour of the property, said he's still trying to raise $5 million to $7 million for constructing the sound stages.

Aspiring movie moguls have been popping up throughout Connecticut ever since the state adopted its generous film tax credit in 2006, offering as much as 30 cents for each dollar spent on certain infrastructure and production expenses. So far, no major studio has been built from scratch.

In nearby South Windsor, a company called Connecticut Studios LLC, backed by investors from California and Rhode Island, is planning a $65 million film studio with financial assistance from the state.

DeFranzo and an adviser, Jack O'Dea, who said he intends to invest in the project, said that Windsor Worldwide Studios' existing structure gives them a head start. The racing arena is ready to rent by film production companies, if all they need is a vast indoor space.

"What's in South Windsor?" said O'Dea, who met DeFranzo two months ago.

"A dirt field?" said DeFranzo.

He added, "We're not going to worry about South Windsor."

Like other entrepreneurs with visions of Connecticut as a film production center, DeFranzo and O'Dea view the state as an important financial supporter.

"We need money for a lot of things," said O'Dea, who described himself as a former teacher, oil trader and, decades ago, Middletown city councilman whose role in DeFranzo's emerging movie enterprise is to "connect the dots."

As of last week, the floor of the cavernous former motor sports arena still showed the tread marks of dirt bike races long finished. DeFranzo said he has not yet rented the space for film production. By next spring, he hopes to be filming the first feature film of a production company he has also founded, First Town Film Studios. Work has already begun on a reality television series about filmmaking, he said.

During the tour of his building last week, DeFranzo said that former Hartford Whalers owner-turned-movie producer Howard Baldwin has agreed to produce the modest [$5 million] project "Growing Defiant," described as a "gritty drama" about a young man's drug addiction.

Reached Monday, Baldwin, of Baldwin Entertainment Group, said, "Tom has approached us about becoming producers on the project and it's something we are discussing with him. That is all; there is no firm commitment."

Baldwin, nonetheless, praised DeFranzo's property as a potential site for making movies, primarily for its vastness.

"You could do a lot within that structure," he said, noting that it would need to be properly equipped. "There are many sound stages that are limited because of their size."

DeFranzo and O'Dea also told their guests that former Miramax executive John Logigian would run Windsor Worldwide Studios. DeFranzo later said that he and Logigian are still working out the details of Logigian's contract and that it has not been signed yet.

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