Luc Besson’s long-gestating studio project is kicking into high gear. The Cite du Cinema (Cinema City) project - first discussed by Besson seven years ago - will break ground this year for a planned opening in the first trimester of 2012.

Yesterday, at the yet-to-be-renovated site inside a former power plant on the outskirts of Paris, journalists and industry folk were informed that the new studio will be owned by two separate entities. On the one side there is La Nef Lumiere, an association of the Caisse des Depots and Vinci Immobilier which will own the 51,000 square meter area that will eventually house production offices, a screening room, reception room, restaurant, workshops and training space.

The other owner, Les Studios de Paris, will own the 9 soundstages which will range in size from 600 to 2200 square meters. Partners in the Studios de Paris are the Euro Media Group run by Jean-Pierre and Chantal Barry, businessman and post-production impresario Tarak Ben Ammar (via his Quinta Group), EuropaCorp and Besson’s holding company, Frontline.

The cost of the entire project is estimated at Euros 160m with the studio side being held 50% by Frontline and EuropaCorp and 25% each by Euro Media Group and Ben Ammar. The share of the cost for Les Studios de Paris is Euros 30m, according to Chantal Barry.

As previously announced, Ben Ammar plans to move all of his post-production labs to the site. A new addition will be the Ecole Superieure Nationale Louis Lumiere, one of France’s premiere film schools which will move to the Cinema City and take up 8000 square meters of space. Further plans are being made to establish a program that would give students the opportunity to achieve a diploma in the technical arts via training at the studio.

Addressing those assembled, Besson recalled that he would have liked to shoot The Fifth Element in France but was unable to, because of a lack of infrastructure. He was thus forced to shoot in the UK, spending a fair amount of cash in the process. Now, he said, he wants to give back to France and its technical industries. He noted that the first film to be shot at the studio will be an as-yet-undetermined EuropaCorp production.

Ben Ammar noted that given that Europe invests heavily in US films produced outside the studios, bringing the films to shoot in France would provide those investors with a higher degree of control on spending. Indeed, the studio is designed to attract foreign business and Besson noted he had made the rounds of the US studios to gauge their interest. He said he had of course spoken with Fox’s Jim Gianopolus among others and that “every studio said, ‘If you want us to promise to come in the first few years, we will’.”

Besson added that Americans are “thrilled” with the idea and said, “It’s hard to take Tom Cruise to Prague in November. You can do it once, but not twice. They’ll be very happy to be in Paris.”

At the tail end of the press conference, Besson received confirmation that the building permits would be signed in late July or early-August. “We’re winning one to nil at the half,” he said. “But, there’s still another half to go.”