Perhaps JT Martin is a closet fan of the "High School Musical" movies.

Or maybe the Salt Lake City councilman just misses tuning into weekly episodes of "Touched by an Angel" and "Everwood."

Martin definitely is a big fan of the productions' decisions to film in Salt Lake City, and he wants to make sure that continues to happen — and more often.

The first-year councilman is proposing that the city set aside an undisclosed amount of money in the 2008-09 budget to fund incentives such as sales-tax rebates for productions filming in Salt Lake City.

The incentives would be in addition to those available from the state, which currently offers a 15 percent rebate on Utah expenditures. That economic benefit, however, is capped at $500,000 per project.

"Because the state is limited in the amount of assistance it can offer, the city has an opportunity to become a partner in helping to fund incentives to make Salt Lake City a desirable place for film activity and to keep jobs in Utah," Martin told his City Council colleagues Tuesday.

Martin said the economic development opportunity for Salt Lake City is made greater by a planned private project to build a state-of-the-art movie studio and post-production facility in Utah — possibly at Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West.

Blackstone Studios and Stone Five Studios are teaming up on a 53-acre development that would include 12 soundstages, as well as retail, office and residential space.

The Fairpark is the preferred site for the development, though other locations also are being explored, said Joe Pia, a longtime entertainment attorney and a partner in Blackstone Studios.

Blackstone is in initial talks with state officials about leasing or purchasing acreage at the Fairpark, Pia said. The proposal calls for the Utah State Fair to be incorporated into the development, although the fair also could be relocated if that were the state's preference, he said.

Pia said he envisions a "mini Universal Studios," with public tours of the soundstages and productions.

Incentives such as those being proposed by Martin are crucial to the film industry, he said.

"It would be a wonderful enticement — not only to the film industry but to Blackstone Studios — if the city were to offer some sort of incentive," Pia said.

Blackstone Studios has been courted by other states with better incentive programs — including New Mexico and Louisiana — but the primary partners live in Utah and would like to see it here, he said.

New Mexico's incentives include a state sales-tax exemption and a 25 percent refundable income-tax credit on in-state production and post-production costs. The state's cap for such incentives is $15 million.

"It all comes down to incentives," Martin said. "If we're going to be in the ballgame, we've got to have some incentives."

The production of Walt Disney Studios' "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," currently filming in Salt Lake City, is expected to boost the state's economy by $13.3 million in just 41 days, he said.

"I don't know of any other industry that can come in and dump $13.3 million in 41 days and leave," Martin said.

"Blank Slate," a TV movie planned to serve as a springboard for a series pilot on TNT, spent four weeks filming in Salt Lake City, spending a little more than $1 million.

The city and state missed out, however, on "Leverage," a TNT drama slated to premiere later this year. The weekly series starring Oscar winner Timothy Hutton opted for Portland, Ore., where it was offered better incentives, Martin said.

About $1 million per week will be spent for 13 weeks in Oregon while the series is filming, he said.

Martin also suggested to the City Council that criteria for the city's small-business revolving loan fund be amended to allow for short-term, low- to zero-percent financing to better cater to the film industry.

The City Council will be discussing the 2008-09 budget for the next several weeks. By state law, the city's final budget must be adopted by June 22.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com