Allen Park goes hollywood

Allen Park goes hollywood

Allen Park goes Hollywood

Native Detroiter will head $146M film studio to be announced today

Nathan Hurst / The Detroit News

Allen Park –This Downriver Detroit suburb will soon be home to a $146 million assembly line, where thousands of unionized employees will produce movies, television programs and entertainment for so-called new media.

>Officials today will announce details of the project, headed by a Detroit native, to turn a site in Allen Park into one of Michigan’s largest film studios.

The integrated facility will produce filmed entertainment, including movies, television and new media, two sources familiar with the project told The Detroit News. New media produced there could include productions for the Web and mobile devices such as video-enabled cell phones.

Ground is expected to be broken by fall.

Sources confirmed that the company, Unity Studios, will be headed by native Detroiter Jimmy Lifton, whose Oracle Post production company in California has worked on big TV and movie projects, including outsourced work for MTV Networks and NBC Universal.

Calls to Lifton’s office weren’t returned Monday. But sources said Unity Studios will be owned by a consortium of investors from California and Michigan.

The project is expected to create thousands of highly skilled, technical jobs. Recently laid-off union workers and Allen Parkers will receive preference in hiring.

Retail, housing included

A biography on Lifton posted on the Web site of Oracle Post said the Unity Studios project will include retail and housing components, as well as an educational facility, the Lifton Institute for Media Skills, which “will work … with the unions and focuses on sustainable skilled work force.”

Oracle Post is expected to expand its own work from locations in Santa Monica and Burbank, Calif., to Unity Studios as well.

Lifton and his company have worked on a number of recent high-profile productions, including TV reality hits “The Real Housewives of Orange County” and “Celebrity Fit Club” as well as animated features such as “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Sources wouldn’t confirm the exact site of the facility, which will be developed on what was described as brownfield property once used by auto-making firms.

But, in a January interview with The News, Allen Park Mayor Gary Burtka said he and other city officials were working to seal a deal to build a new studio at a former Visteon Corp. technical center.

That 104-acre site is adjacent to I-94, with frontage on Southfield Road.

Burtka said in January he expected roughly 3,500 permanent full-time jobs from the project. He was unavailable for comment Monday.

But, in a prepared statement, Burtka said the project “amounts to an economic development blockbuster for the city, Wayne County and state.”

Other than Burtka’s brief statement, city, state and county officials kept mum about today’s announcement.

But a morning meeting today of the Michigan Economic Growth Authority is likely to bring good news for the Unity Studios project: A package of high-technology tax credits is on the agenda of the authority’s board.

Tax policy called key

Sources said Michigan’s aggressive tax credit policy for moviemakers — which provides a refundable 42 percent break — was key in landing the Unity Studios project. Because state law provides the biggest credit for in-state workers, having a steady stable of Michiganians already employed at the facility opens the door for production companies to get the big tax breaks.

All told, the facility is expected to house 750,000 square feet of space for production, post-production and support work, including eight sound stages.

Michigan’s tax credit program for entertainment projects has fueled a flurry of recent announcements touting new projects, including a large studio at a former General Motors Corp. facility in Pontiac, a planned animation outfit at the MGM Grand Detroit’s shuttered temporary casino and a soundstage and production facility at the old Free Press building on West Lafayette in downtown Detroit.

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