Though business is beginning to pick up slightly for Louisiana’s movie and TV industry, activity is still sluggish in Baton Rouge, prompting officials at the massive Celtic Media Centre to become more aggressive about marketing their 150,000 square feet of studio space off Airline Highway.
Among the events booked for the spring are an antiques show, brunch and fashion show, political fundraiser, corporate crawfish boil and the Companion Animal Alliance’s annual Fur Ball.
Events are nothing new for Celtic. Even during the heyday of the movie industry in the early 2010s, Celtic rented space in its cavernous sound stages for purposes other than filming.
But since changes to the state’s tax incentive program—once the most generous in the nation—sent producers packing for other states, Celtic has had to become more creative about finding alternate uses for its vacant space.
“I think over the last few years it’s been at the front of our mind that we need to diversify and that we are overbuilt for the size and number of projects we’ll see on the film and television side,” says Aaron Bayham, director of studio operations at Celtic. “We’ve kind of always filled in with events but now we have a little more flexibility with the availability of the stages so we’ve been able to book some of these events a little further out.”
Though Celtic has a total of some 150,000 square feet, only some of that space is actually available for events. About 80,000 square feet in three stages is still being actively marketed to the entertainment industry for filming. A fourth stage is leased long-term to a local graphics company that does large format printing. That leaves about 30,000 square feet in Stage 8 for large events and a 6,500-square-foot space for smaller events in Stage 2.
Part of what makes Celtic attractive for large events is the relative lack of alternatives. Among local hotels, only the Crowne Plaza can accommodate as many as 1,200 guests for a seated event. All the other hotels max out at around 1,000 or less.
That leaves the Raising Cane’s River Center and Celtic, the latter of which has a unique set of pros and cons.
“You walk in and it’s just a blank space so it could cost you more by the time you bring in all the individual vendors,” Bayham says. “But the great thing is you can do whatever you want and you’re not limited by a turnkey operation.”
Bayham says Celtic hopes to attract even more events for 2019 than it did last year. But he’s also optimistic activity will pick up in the movie and television industry so the studio can be used for its intended purpose.
“We think 2019 is looking up,” he says. “So if we’re hoping to land one or two decent productions for the year and fill in with events on Stage 8.”