Desert Sky Studio Complex

Plans have been developed for Desert Sky Studio Complex, a 130-acre, 24-stage film and television production campus with an entertainment and shopping district at Loop 303 and Lone Mountain Road, near Peoria’s Vistancia community. Formal agreements have yet to be made with the city and state, however, and land has not officially been set aside for the project. (Photos courtesy Ruben Arizpe)

Paramount, Sony and NBCUniversal are just a few of the entertainment companies that could be coming to the West Valley, if all goes according to plan for a local group.

Ruben Arizpe, CEO and founder of East Scottsdale Consulting Inc., recently told Peoria Times he and his business partners are looking to develop a 130-acre film and TV studio campus called Diamond Sky Studio Complex at Loop 303 and Lone Mountain Road, near Peoria’s Vistancia community.

In addition to 24 stages, Arizpe said the plans incorporate a “city walk,” which would serve as a sort of entertainment and retail district comparable to Universal CityWalk.

And according to Arizpe, those three media companies are interested in his plans — plans he claims could bring $2.4 billion in revenue to the state per year, along with 1,500 jobs.

“It’s giving people in Peoria a place to go in that area. It’s also attracting people from all over the city with the amenities,” Arizpe said. “It’s going to be an exciting place to be.”

While there’s much to be anticipated, there’s a catch: the project is not yet set in stone with the city or state, and further negotiations have to be had.

Bringing Hollywood

to the desert

According to East Scottsdale Consulting Inc.’s website, it is “laying the groundwork to bring Hollywood to the desert.”

Arizpe’s “Hollywood,” he clarified, would serve as a rental facility. It will not produce its own works.

Initial plans called for 16 stages, but Arizpe felt it had to be upped to 24. And Sony Pictures would be involved in the design of the studios, he added.

Diamond Sky Studio Complex’s companion “city walk” area, as described by Arizpe, would have shops, bars, restaurants and theaters.

Additionally, to accommodate children, plans call for an area he called “Gamer’s Row.” It would feature a virtual reality/arcade area on the first level, as well as space for fast-food eateries on the second level.

Children would wear wristbands paired with a credit or debit card for spending, and tracking capabilities would prevent them from wandering from the area unsupervised.

Other features of the “city walk,” Arizpe said, would be a small water park, a Ferris wheel and a hotel/office building. Arizpe said plans also call for a Bourbon Street-like area with restaurants and bars.

And where the entertainment and shopping district meets the production campus, he said, would be four stages to host game and talk shows.

“Locals can come and visit and be a part of the game shows and see the talk shows; be on TV, possibly,” Arizpe said. “And they’ll go to dinner and they’ll tend to shops; they’ll go to the shows.”

Coming with experience

Arizpe said he brings more than two decades of experience to the table. More specifically, he said he was a finance executive for Disney, Paramount  Pictures and Sony Corp.

“It’s not a very high-level position, but it taught me a lot,” he said with a laugh.

Arizpe’s business partner, Dan Sherkow, president of production for East Scottsdale Consulting Inc., also has several decades of experience. According to their company’s website, Sherkow worked stints with NBC Television and Time-Life Films, and was later vice president of East Coast production for Paramount and vice president of production for Tri-Star. He has also been involved in numerous film productions, among other business and film industry experiences.

“We both have a lot of experience, and our contacts are solid,” Arizpe said.

Arizpe said he has people on the project who were behind the development of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, a major studio in Georgia that has been used for such films as “Avengers: Endgame.”

“They’re very successful; they know what they’re doing,” he said. “Both my partner and I come from studio backgrounds. We know what we’re doing; we have the contacts.”

Moving forward

Before the proposed campus can move forward, Arizpe and his partners are looking to get the city of Peoria and Gov. Doug Ducey officially on board.

He said talks with Peoria officials have been ongoing for about a year and a half, but nothing formal has been agreed upon.

When contacted by Peoria Times, city officials provided the following statement:

“Mr. Arizpe has shared his plans with the city and it is our understanding that he is trying to pull together his project team and secure financing. While the city is always interested in projects that create high-quality jobs or bring in new industry, this project is in the very early stages and the city has not entered into any formal agreements.”

Arizpe, however, said partners in the realms of funding, construction and development are already secure, though investors are still being sought. But he admitted proof that the project is legitimate and feasible is something Peoria officials have yet to see.

As of print, Arizpe said he and his partners are on the brink of reconnecting with Peoria officials to get plans moving forward. That includes the acquisition of land for the development.

Ducey’s support, on the other hand, could help create incentives for film and TV production within the state, according to Arizpe.

“We are pursuing some acknowledgement from the governor that they will step up and help us champion these incentives — not a guarantee of any kind, just that he will help,” Arizpe said. “We feel that we can offer the state not only a great campus but also an opportunity for incentives that actually benefit the state and create jobs.”

Even without the incentives, however, Arizpe said the industry needs something like Desert Sky Studio Complex.

“We don’t really need the incentives. We’re taking studio overflow,” he said. “Right now there’s a backlog of production across the United States because there is no qualified stage space. Now, qualified stage space means technically qualified; they have to have certain specifications to work for film and television. And, we have contacts at three major studios that will take the overflow on, so they can fill it as we build it.”

Lower taxes than some other states, as well as Arizona being a right-to-work state, make the Valley attractive to studios, he said.

If all goes according to plan, construction on the campus, Arizpe explained, would be divided into three phases, starting with six stages that could be filled as they’re built. Modeled after Universal Picture’s designs, he explained, the stages would have offices.

In full, however, the 24-stage-plus-“city walk” campus would take 18 months to construct. And as soon as all involved parties come to an agreement, Arizpe said, he and his partners would be ready to commence construction in as little as a month.

Arizpe estimated the project’s cost is $200 million. The first two phases would cost $50 million each, while the final phase would cost $100 million.

And while Arizpe is hoping everything works accordingly with Peoria, should discussions falter he is considering other areas in Goodyear, Phoenix or Glendale, across from State Farm Stadium.

“What I’ve been told by (Mayor) Cathy Carlat and (Economic Development Services Director) Scott Whyte is they do want to work with us; they just need to show the city council that we are real. And I can understand that. But we have the finance partners, a developer and construction company show that we have credible people on our side, and they’re coming,” Arizpe said.

“This is going to happen. Even if the state doesn’t give us incentives, we’re still creating jobs. We still have to build 24 crews of Arizonans. This is for Arizona.”