New life for old flour mill: TV/movie production at King County Harbor Island Studios

(King County Executive’s Office photo)

Call it Hollywood on Harbor Island. Part of the former Fisher Flour Mill – now county-owned – has become a TV/movie-production facility, and King County Executive Dow Constantine showed it off today. From the county announcement:

The 117,000 square-foot sound stage is King County’s first major public investment to bring back a once-thriving film industry and hundreds of family wage, creative economy jobs as the region rebounds post-pandemic.

King County crews and contractors re-wired and built interior sound-proof walls in the former Fisher Flour Mill, purchased by King County 18 years ago to potentially ship solid waste. The work, which cost about $1.5 million, has already attracted a creative economy tenant.

A Hollywood episodic production is preparing to use the space as a sound stage, hiring hundreds of local crew members with family-wage jobs.

As part of his 2019 Creative Economy Initiative, Executive Constantine called for supporting the regional film industry by reducing film permit fees and timelines on King County property, and seeking new ways to promote regional productions. Executive Constantine convened his Film Advisory Board to work with industry veterans to craft the best strategies. The Advisory board quickly identified the need for a regional sound stage to compete with Portland, Vancouver, B.C., and other cities and states.

Attention turned to the former Fisher Flour Mill on Harbor Island.

Film production is classified light industrial for zoning, and a production facility is best suited to be in a commercial or industrial area. Harbor Island’s location is ideal – close to the urban center, but relatively isolated.

The condition of the Fisher Flour Mill warehouse, the height of the ceilings, and the integrity of the structure all make it perfect for long-term film production use. The production currently using the sound stage wishes to remain anonymous. The film industry typically seeks to downplay its presence in a community for a variety of reasons, including security and marketing.

The goal of King County Harbor Island Studios is to create the infrastructure needed to land a wide variety of projects – from feature films to commercials – which pay union wages to carpenters, electricians, prop masters, costume designers, and other trades.

The announcement also notes that the “last major episodic television production in Washington was ‘Northern Exposure.’ (which) set up shop in a warehouse in Redmond and produced six seasons starting in 1990.” King County bought the ex-mill site in 2003.

17 Replies to "New life for old flour mill: TV/movie production at King County Harbor Island Studios"

  • Sheila G April 3, 2021 (4:47 pm)

    Very cool! Glad to see this initiative.

  • CMB April 3, 2021 (5:06 pm)

    A good first step, but without significant tax incentives (aka corporate welfare) it will be difficult to attract large shows to shoot here. Producers chase free money, that’s how the business works now.  Ironically Seattle used to have TV shows and big movies shoot here… until the age of incentives.  

  • hinkey April 3, 2021 (5:32 pm)

    Any link to whomever leases these facilities?

  • Alex April 3, 2021 (8:04 pm)

    My mother was Ken Fisher’s secretary in the late 1940s/1950s.   I have several pictures of the era  if the facility wants them.    My mother used shorthand in that job and in later life, only she could read her notes to herself.

  • HS April 3, 2021 (11:14 pm)

    I second that “very cool”.

  • Scott April 4, 2021 (1:11 pm)

    Isn’t that directly under the approach and departure of both SeaTac and King County airport? But it’s great to hear the energy in government direction. Long time needed.

  • Ramon April 4, 2021 (1:49 pm)

    How do i get info for working there

    • WSB April 4, 2021 (2:14 pm)

      Perhaps someone directly involved will comment; barring that, I would imagine you’d generally have to be a member of one of the unions that serve the industry.

    • Auntie April 5, 2021 (10:36 am)

      Probably IATSE Local 488 or Local 793. Look them up on the internet.

  • Fremont Studios April 4, 2021 (3:10 pm)

    Why is it people think movie making is about a soundstage? True its one tool in the movie making tool box that’s not on wheels but it’s a tool that can be manufactured most anywhere. Look at Northern Exposure for example. Also, you think Hollywood wants to come to the Northwest to shoot inside? Think again!If I remember correctly the problem with Washington State losing block buster Hollywood productions to Canada and Oregon is because of its Constitution. Washington cannot partner with private business to be competitive with other states and countries to solicit movie business. 

    • Cameraman RIP April 5, 2021 (9:22 am)

      Sound Stages were the heart of the Hollywood Studio system.  
      They provide the control required and efficiency of the production process.  
      Having large and multiple stages allows flexibility with several active ‘sets’.  Series work is usually done with a few studio sets constructed for the commonly used interiors.  
      The ‘world’ of ‘Northern Exposure’ was unusually insular portraying a small Alaskan.  
      The multiple sets in a Redmond industrial park  were limited with the exteriors photographed in Roslyn, 90 minutes away over Snoqualmie Pass.   
      Not a local, I was based in Hollywood, but the Fremont Studio claims a 10,000 sq ft sound stage while the Fisher Studios claim is 117,000 sq ft.  
      The difference appears obvious.
      I hope these new stages provide a restart to Seattle’s long suffering production community and the sisters and brothers I have such fond memories of working with.

    • nonenone April 5, 2021 (10:22 am)

      It is not a violation of the State Constitution for local government to partner with a private company, there are all kinds of examples:  Norm Maeleng Building at Harborview, parking gargages, etc.  What matters is the process and results, if a company doesn’t want to do its homework and planning with the proposed partner, you are never going to get anywhere.However, all that being said, in Washington State the lack of a tax credit for doing production here is one of the biggest drags.  And don’t expect the Legislature to remedy it, JLARC completed an evaluation and there is almost no benefit to changing the state law.

  • RIK DESKIN April 4, 2021 (9:07 pm)

    This is a good thing. Kudos to King County for being proactive.

  • Joe the producer April 6, 2021 (6:07 am)

    If sound stages were actually needed, private enterprise would’ve handled it already.  This is not going to bring back any semblance of business to Seattle.  I’d rather rent a concrete tilt-up warehouse on the Eastside where there’s more ease of use.  Frankly, this is waste of taxpayers money.

    • Daniel Kavanaugh April 6, 2021 (7:32 pm)

      I agree 100 percent. This is just trying to make a bad decision i.e. buying the place looks like King County made a good purchase. Instead of what it really is and that they were had!! Fisher got rid of it. The next company saw that the building is old. Hell it was old when I worked there back in the late 60’s there many accidents cause by worn out equipment. OH and bye the way if ya don’t know Fisher Flour was owned by the family of same name. Where am I going here try this on Fisher Flour,Fisher broadcasting King 5 oh and another Fisher family member Bill Gates yup . Now they must be laughing themself s silly…..

      • WSB April 6, 2021 (7:38 pm)

        No, actually, the Fisher family owned KOMO TV (channel 4), and still did when we moved here 30 years ago this week after they hired me. Also, as noted above, the county has owned this building for almost 20 years.

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