Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- It is an unlikely venue for the renaissance of film production in the Deep South. Lakewood Fairgrounds are sadly dilapidated, overrun with kudzu, located in a poor, rundown part of Atlanta.
But if its boosters are to be believed, Lakewood Fairgrounds could soon be attracting some of Hollywood's brightest stars to the state.
When it opens, Lakewood will provide state-of-the art facilities for filmmakers to take advantage of Georgia's aggressive incentives. In 2008, the state introduced the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act. The program seems to be paying off: Last year, Georgia played host to the production of 18 movies and 22 television shows. Among them: "The Blind Side," "The Last Song," "Zombieland," "Lottery Ticket" and "Get Low."
The investment in 2009 amounted to some $770 million, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. After Lakewood's completion, that figure could rise quickly.
Lakewood is no stranger to the entertainment business, though many years have passed since its grounds were put to such a use. Before the age of theme parks, it was a family attraction -- featuring arcade games, antiques, a carousel and racetrack.
In 1977 and 1980, the fairgrounds were the location for the first and second of Burt Reynolds' three-part "Smokey and the Bandit" series. The racetrack scenes were filmed at the Lakewood Speedway, which can still be seen on the perimeter of the Lakewood Fairgrounds. (It's not seen a race of any sort since 1979.) And while the famous wooden roller coaster known as "The Greyhound" no longer exists, it was referenced in all three movies.
Today, hidden among the kudzu, the tops of the Spanish colonial-style buildings are only just visible to those driving by. But after entering the gates, you get a sense of how the 30-acre fairgrounds are being transformed into a studio complex that will welcome not only film and television but also digital production projects.
The site will be leased for the next 50 years by EUE/Screen Gems, a media company that has property in both New York and North Carolina.
"There was such a glaring need for first-rate quality studios in the state," said Chris Cooney, president and COO of EUE/Screen Gems. "Lakewood was the best option. It had the most attributes that we look for in a studio complex."
The multimillion dollar-phased renovation includes a 37,500-foot sound stage. But if you're expecting to find demolished buildings overridden with bulldozers and cement trucks, you're in for a surprise. The four main structures, which were previously used as exhibition halls to house livestock, are, for the most part, intact and will remain on the grounds.
Both "Zombieland" and "Lottery Ticket" were filmed at the Lakewood site, and new projects are set to begin in a couple of months.
Cooney, who explained that "there is a vast amount of location resources in the state and city," also said Atlanta offers some unique advantages.
"We have an urban backdrop with Atlanta. That is exciting for filmmakers to have a world-class facility only minutes away from downtown. ... That is potent."
Just as appealing for Cooney and other industry movers is the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act.
Hadjii, a longtime Georgia resident and independent filmmaker, wrote, directed and starred in his first feature film, "Somebodies," in 2004, which was shot in Athens, Georgia. He later went on to create "Somebodies" as a TV series for the BET network in 2008.
"We took advantage of the tax incentive," he said. "We were one of the first projects to be able to take advantage of it, and that was very instrumental in helping us convince BET that this was a good place to shoot."
Under the act, eligible productions can receive up to a 30 percent tax credit granted an animated Georgia logo is imbedded in all projects approved by the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office.
For locals, who are used to the drone of airplanes landing at nearby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the idea of people coming to the community and working is raising hopes for job dividends.
"Two thousand new jobs have been created as a direct result of the Entertainment Industry Investment Act that was implemented in May 2008," says Lee Thomas, director of the Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Office at the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
"We now have more than 25,000 Georgians employed in the entertainment industry."
Can Atlanta develop into a hub of film production to rival Los Angeles and New York? Cooney said he believes the city's trump card is cost.
"We will be able to compete, but it is less competing and more servicing. We feel we can service our clients more effectively with this new studio facility," he said.
"We are in a cost-pressure economy and cost-pressure industry. Film and television budgets are decreasing, and one must look for production value when producing a film or a television show or a commercial. You must look for cost efficiencies and cost advantages."
So when you're at the movies two or three years from now, watch the end credits for a line that says: "Filmed entirely on location in Georgia."