Harbor Island Studios, formerly the Fisher Flour Mill in Seattle, has undergone a transformation as part of King County’s initiative to revive the local film industry. The grand opening on June 29 was attended by nearly 500 individuals, marking the county’s first significant public investment in cultivating the local film industry and reintroducing numerous well-paying jobs in the creative sector.
This milestone event represents the progress achieved by the Harbor Island project since its announcement by County Executive Dow Constantine in April 2021. In the 1980s and ’90s, Washington State flourished as a film hub. However, it has failed to keep up with the incentives offered by other states and Canadian jurisdictions. As a consequence, certain productions supposedly set in Washington have actually been filmed in Oregon, such as the “Twilight” series set in Forks, according to a report in the Puget Sound Business Journal.
The last notable television production in Washington was “Northern Exposure,” which was filmed in a Redmond warehouse. Over six seasons starting in 1990, each episode generated more than $50 million in revenue for the state, according to county reports.
Washington State made efforts to enhance its film industry last year when the Legislature increased funding for the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program. This included raising the annual cap on business-and-occupation tax credits awarded to films from $3.5 million to $15 million. Additionally, the individual tax credit that a film can receive was increased from $750,000 to $1 million.
“This is about making a smart public investment to help this creative industry grow and thrive here in King County. We don’t want Vancouver or Portland – or Atlanta – to keep serving as Seattle’s stand-in. We’re ready to spotlight the amazing talent of our region,” said Dow Constantine, King County executive, on the property’s website.
The 117,000-square-foot Harbor Island Studios, located at 3233 16th Ave SW, offers versatile facilities capable of accommodating a range of projects, from commercials to feature films. Many of these productions provide union wages to skilled tradespeople such as carpenters, electricians, prop masters, and costume designers, as highlighted by Constantine.
The project consists of two studios, with the first studio officially opening on July 1. However, the first production, a TV show, took place in the spring of 2021. The county’s Facilities Management Division has since made improvements to the building, including soundproofing the soundstages.
According to the county, a total of 15 productions of various sizes have been completed at Harbor Island, with six more scheduled and others pending. The work on the second studio will resume in the coming weeks, although no specific completion date has been set yet, according to a county spokesperson.
To date, the county has invested $2 million in capital improvements for the studios. The spokesperson also stated that there will be further future work on the project.
Pulcon Inc., a general contractor, has been employed by King County to construct the sound stages, while the remaining work has been carried out by county carpenters and other workers.
In January, the county established the Office of Economic Opportunity & Creative Economy, which operates with three full-time-equivalent employees and an annual budget of nearly $2 million.
Furthermore, the state has a legislatively commissioned nonprofit organization called Washington Filmworks, which assists filmmakers, and the City of Seattle’s Office of Film and Music performs similar functions. In April, the City Council confirmed the appointments of the inaugural members of the Seattle Film Commission, which aims to attract more film and television productions to the city.