The former National Guard armory in South Portland may soon be reborn as a television and movie studio if the city and the leader of the proposed venture can agree on final details of the deal.

After pursuing the project for two years, Eric Matheson of Cape Elizabeth said it looks like Fore River Soundstage could be in the city-owned building on Broadway early in the new year.

“There’s no lease signed at the moment, but our plans are firming up,” said Matheson. “We’re much closer to what we need now.”

Matheson said he is negotiating a lease with an option to buy the 35,000-square-foot building. He said a component that would give the city a percentage of rental income needs further negotiation.

Matheson’s business, Native Son Productions, would be among a number of companies that make up Fore River Soundstage. Matheson has built sets for films including “Empire Falls,” “Amistad” and “Man Without a Face.”

Fore River Soundstage would focus on television commercials and movies with budgets under $5 million. The plan for the armory calls for a 10,000-square-foot soundstage, space for prop and set building, a still photography studio, a post-production house and other functions.

It would take about five years to develop all of those components, but production work could begin quickly, Matheson said.

City Councilor Patti Smith agreed that South Portland and Matheson are getting closer to a mutually beneficial agreement.

“We all want to see the building be used in a productive way that brings some vitality to that part of South Portland,” she said.

The National Guard has not used the armory at the foot of the Casco Bay Bridge since the mid-1990s. South Portland tried to buy it, but its bids of $250,000 and $350,000 were rejected.

The Museum of Glass and Ceramics bought the armory in 2002, but the museum declared bankruptcy in 2005. The city offered the winning bid of $650,000 during liquidation proceedings the next year.

The armory now houses the Fire Department’s maintenance garage, which would remain even after the soundstage moved in, said City Manager Jim Gailey. Some public safety vehicles that are to be sold — old police cruisers likely destined to become taxi cabs — are also kept in the building.

Gailey said the negotiations are down to a last-minute item that shouldn’t take long to resolve. He said a proposed deal could go to the City Council for consideration as soon as early January.

“Eric has a timeline. I think he is eager to get in there with his partners,” he said. “That’s a good thing. That will make his side move faster and will make me move faster.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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