Duo's aim is to keep prod'n from moving to Canada

NEW YORK — “Max and Grace” is the first project to land at Stapleton, the nascent Staten Island studio venture spearheaded by Danny Aiello and Marlo Walker.

Pic will be partially shot in one of the new state-of-the-art studio spaces within Stapleton’s 14,000-square-foot facility.

“I’m doing everything in my power to keep people here in New York and from going to Canada,” Aiello told Daily Variety.

Walker said “Max and Grace” had been destined to shoot in Toronto before Stapleton offered a sweet deal.

A second film, “Soul Collector,” is slated for the fall.

Duo also said they are negotiating with a major studio to bring an $85 million budget film to the facility in December.

Aiello and Walker, who owns the primary private equity backer Harbor Entertainment, said they have $150 million committed to ultimately develop 40 acres of studio space (13-16 soundstages with “all the bells and whistles”) on what has been a poor part of the borough’s North Shore.

Under 30 minutes from midtown, the former naval base reverted to the city of New York in 1997 and is being leased to Stapleton on a six-month occupancy permit. Aiello and Walker are working furiously with the Bloomberg administration to secure a 49½-year lease. A key issue is tax revenues from the site; Aiello stressed the studio will provide the city with roughly 2,000 jobs.

The first phase of studio development was paid for in good faith with $2 million from Harbor in an effort to prove the viability of the project to the city.

“We took a chance, and I will squat here if they try to kick us out,” Aiello said.

New York native Aiello said he fell in love with the site when then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani showed it to him several years ago; he developed the project expressly out of a desire to keep production in the U.S. and specifically in New York City.

“This is the only way to level the playing field with Canada,” Aiello said.

Touting local tax breaks as an economic inducement for producers, Aiello and Walker said they are offering highly competitive prices for the facility and are willing to sacrifice margins in the studio.

The goal is to offer competitive prices and services, possibly to mitigate cost of union wages, by making up the greater profits from some 60,000 square feet of planned adjacent hotels, restaurants, marina, shops and boardwalk.

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