UPPER PROVIDENCE >> The Delaware County Press Club closed out its 2016-17 season in May with special guest and well-known Philadelphia real estate lawyer Jeff Rotwitt, owner of Sun Center Studios, as the featured speaker at its year-end luncheon, held at DiFabio’s Market and Tap.
Accompanied by his daughter, Julie Rotwitt Golembiewski, the businessman updated the Press Club on everything that has happened at the landmark site in the last two years.
Sun Center Studios opened in Delaware County in 2011. The facility boasts three 20,000-square-foot sound stages, 39,000 square feet of office space, 45,000 square feet of mill space, a gigabyte fiber connection to the site, campus wifi, 9,000 amps power on two stages and more than 500 parking spaces. Situated on the site of the former Sun Center recreational center, Rotwitt said, after he purchased the property, he felt it was important to retain the name to signify the historical importance of Sun Oil Co. to the area.
Rotwitt spoke about the steady stream of major films that have shot on location there since its inception. About a dozen short and full-length major films used the studios, he said, including M. Night Shyamalan and Will Smith’s feature “After Earth”; “Paranoia” with Harrison Ford and Liam Hemsworth; “Creed,” the sequel to the Rocky film series starring Sylvester Stallone; “Franny” starring Richard Gere and Dakota Fanning; and the latest film just this year, “Untouchable,” directed by Neil Burger and starring “Breaking Bad” actor Bryan Cranston, Kevin Hart and Nicole Kidman.
“We are not competing with Hollywood,” Rotwitt said about Sun Center Studios. “Rather, we are a standalone here on the East Coast. We are in a great location, in between New York and D.C., close to the airport and other amenities.”
Part of the highlight of filming in the Keystone State, Rotwitt explained, is that qualifying projects are eligible to receive up to a 30 percent tax credit when filming here.
A multitude of commercial projects have also been filmed at Sun Center Studios at 250 N. Commerce Drive in Chester Township, including ones for PowerAde, Arby’s and the Pennsylvania Lottery. Photo shoots for Under Armour and USA Network’s “Political Animals” have occurred there as well.
“When films are shot at Sun Center, the whole area prospers — Delaware County, Southeastern Pennsylvania and the whole state,” Rotwitt stated.
He went on to say that the productions filming there filled 35,000 hotel rooms. The crews eat at the restaurants, rent audio visual equipment, use catering companies, rent cars and purchase other necessities while here, he said, pumping up the local economy.
“We used Tague Lumber and as many other local companies as we could, at all times, when we need vendors,” Rotwitt announced.
By the time that “The Untouchable” called it a wrap, the film shoot had generated $82 million for Pennsylvania while employing 500 people at the facility and producing about 20,000 hotel room stays, Rotwitt proclaimed.
In addition to the financial benefits of having local film studios, Rotwitt spoke of the educational benefits. He said the Studios regularly use local college interns and hosts tours for middle and high school students from nearby communities to expose them to the many careers involved in making a film.
“We don’t invite them in to show off the Hollywood glitz inside,” Rotwitt smiled. “Rather, we want them to recognize all the careers that revolve around filmmaking, like wardrobe and set design and hundreds of other jobs. The tours are meant to inspire students and open their eyes to what’s out there.”
Rotwitt talked about the 10-event Starlight Summer Concert Series that Sun Center Studios launched in 2014, in conjunction with BRE, that featured a variety of entertainers from the Beach Boys and Buddy Guy to the Indigo Girls and the Bacon Brothers.
The Studios owner presented a short slideshow to Press Club members, showing photos from the various events, including photos from the recent heavily attended rally that President Donald Trump held at the facility prior to his election last fall.
Talking about the concerts made Rotwitt segue into future plans for the facility, including a large outdoor concert venue, themed retail shopping and a hotel for lodging, dining and private events that is designed to have a 360-degree view. Rotwitt said the plans for a cutting-edge Hollywood backlot tourist attraction at Sun Center are still moving along.
“Our goal is to be an economic engine, not just for Delaware County but for the entire area,” Rotwitt explained. “We are located in Delco, but we are a hub for the entire region, and any wealth that we generate will be shared with that entire region.”
Plans for the 33-acre Sun Center Studios campus include a 175-room hotel and conference center, which will be visible from I-95, as well as an indoor Disneyland-like tourist park, with a Hollywood theme that will include rides and virtual reality attractions. As he unveiled a rendering of the future mixed-use entertainment venue, he said that he has worked with designers of the National Constitution Center, the Holocaust Museum and some of the other impressive buildings to design an impressive complex to reflect the state-of-the-art technology at the site.
In their research, Rotwitt and his family members, who are all involved in the business, visited 30 of the leading tourist attractions in the world. They’ve visited some of the most high-tech, modern attractions, such as Hong Kong Disneyland and the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as some of the low-key popular attractions like Dollywood and Graceland.
“We’ve done our research and we feel ready to begin,” Rotwitt shared. “The East Coast is ripe for this type of attraction. Our tourist attraction will have the most advanced technology in the world, not because we’re the smartest, but because we started later and are only now building this.”
Rotwitt said that there are 80 million people within a six-hour drive of Sun Center, most just a full gas tank or less away, that he’s banking on to visit the huge entertainment complex when it’s complete.
Press Club members were shown a short film, with the lyrics “dreams really do come true” playing in the background, highlighting the steps taken thus far on the site and where things will go into the future. A rendering depicted the existing film studio, along with the projected hotel, concert venue, retail stores, fountains and the Hollywood-meets-Orlando tourist attraction.
Rotwitt said he plans to break ground at the end of 2017, with construction projected to take about 18 to 20 months. The goal is to open in summer of 2019, give or take a few months, he stated.
“Our plan is to attract people from all over to come here,” Rotwitt remarked. “Hopefully once here, they will visit QVC and Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum. They will hopefully dine here and stay here and check out the many exceptional places here. We want to make our area a destination.”