A Hollywood film executive and native of Detroit announced plans Tuesday to build a $146 million, 750,000-square foot film, TV and media production studio factory and village in Allen Park, Michigan.
Unity Studios will be headed by Jimmy Lifton, a principal at the post-production audio studio Oracle Post and producer of 13 mostly sci-fi and horror feature films. Backed by a group of investors from Los Angeles and Michigan, Unity hopes to employ over 3,000 of the state’s residents, including former auto workers.
The city’s mayor, Gary Burtka, said in a statement that the project "represents new hope" for the thousands of local residents and auto workers who have lost their jobs. "We have found an economic boost in the lights, cameras and action of Michigan’s newest high-tech industry.” Neither Lifton nor Burtka were immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Boosted by Michigan thespians including Jeff Daniels, Mike Binder and author-producer Mitch Albom, the state passed new legislation last April to enact stronger film incentives, including a 40 percent refundable tax credit with a spending threshold of $50,000. If things are shot in one of the state’s 103 core communities, an extra 2 percent also can be claimed.
The incentive seems to be working so far. Just this week, S3 Entertainment Group and a Texas-based production company announced they would create the first TV series — a tween comedy titled "The Wannabes" — that will be filmed and produced in Michigan.
And after the legislation was signed in the spring, the state shot 35 films through the end of 2008, bringing in $125 million in expenditures, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). With $48 million refunded, the state reaped a $77 million profit. That’s compared to only a year earlier, when the state hosted three films and brought in $2 million.
Unity is the latest in the line of new production facilities announced in-state. In February, officials announced planned production studios in Detroit and Pontiac that are also expected to bring thousands of jobs to Michigan.
"If you’re going to grow a production base, you need this kind of studio," Michael Shore, communications director for the MEDC told TheWrap. "You want to create jobs where people work full-time and get regular paychecks. That’s when you have a real industry, and that’s what we’re looking to do."
The city will own equity in the studio, which will be built on 104 acres of land. New employees will receive on-set training and production experience. There will also be a nearby village where people can live and be entertained.
"My goal was to help bring a new industry to my home state," Lifton said in a statement. "I like to think of Unity Studios as a factory in the tradition of Henry Ford’s Rouge (Michigan) factory model."
"This is bringing Hollywood to Michigan and letting them see what we have to offer — which is more fresh water shore line than any other state in the U.S.," said Shore. "You want woodlands, you want mountains or charming, small towns, we’ve got that. If you want a gritty, urban setting … we obviously have that."