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Michigan nabs $146M movie studio

Unity Studios to build complex in Detroit suburb

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Sporting “film crew” jackets, members of Teamsters Local 337 gathered with other unionized workers as plans were revealed for a $146 million movie and television studio complex just outside Detroit.

They were there because of the promise of jobs accompanying the project.

“It’s a blessing for all the laid off drivers,” Local 337 business agent Pat Dougherty said. “Keeps them in their houses, too.”

Michigan’s distressed economy continues to get a boost from attractive tax incentives that are luring increasing numbers of movie makers, like Unity Studios Inc., to the state. The Unity Studios complex will be built on 105 acres in Allen Park, officials said at the Tuesday afternoon news conference attended by more than 100 city residents and union members.

When completed, it will include eight sound stages and other facilities to produce and edit movies, television, game shows and other productions. They will be housed in a 750,000-square-foot facility on the site of a former auto parts manufacturer about 10 miles southwest of Detroit.

The project’s first phase will include construction of studios on about 40 acres of land. The second phase will be Unity Village, a housing, retail and commercial business development on 64 acres.

Groundbreaking is expected to take place within 60 days with the studio going operational in October, said Unity Studios President Jimmy Lifton, a former Detroit area native.

Four theatrical movie production stages should be completed by the fall, he said.

“Within a short, concentrated amount of time we will be a true factory,” Lifton said.

Allen Park beat out a location in Louisiana for the complex.

Michigan has been drawing more moviemakers since the tax incentives went into effect last year. The refundable movie tax credit of up to 42 percent on production expenses in the state is the most lucrative in the country.

But the available pool of carpenters, former auto workers and others displaced by the Detroit area’s slumping economy also helped in the decision to locate the studio in Allen Park.

“The carpenters who once built houses will build sets,” Lifton said.

Lifton, along with Allen Park Mayor Burtka and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, touted the estimated 3,000 movie industry jobs expected when all phases of the project are completed over the next few years.

Burtka said Allen Park residents and laid-off auto workers are getting the chance to apply first for those jobs through a jobs bank posted on the city’s Web site.

“It captures the skill level of the workers we have here,” Ficano said. “There are going to be opportunities for a lot of people.”

And that includes former drivers for warehouses and freight companies that have scaled back or gone out of business altogether, Dougherty said.

About 400 members of Local 337 are on the list for jobs in the film industry. Not all are working, but that likely will change as more movie productions come to the area.

Teamsters drivers are making $27 to $28 an hour, with benefits, he said.

“With the film crews, an HBO series in town, a couple of movies coming, I’ve got well over 40 contracts out where they are putting up budgets,” Dougherty said. “They’ll work the budget and hopefully they’ll come.”

Officials in February announced planned production studios in Detroit and Pontiac that also are expected to bring thousands of jobs.

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