Executive says studio project on track

“One thing I can tell you is that we have not strayed from our production schedule.” — Unity Studios President Jimmy Lifton

By BROOKE STEVENSON
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK — City officials confirmed Tuesday that the Unity Studios project is still on track.
After speculation that the project was running behind schedule and officials had not met Wayne County’s guidelines, Unity Studios President Jimmy Lifton said that the project is on course.
“We are very happy and proud to be here,” Lifton said. “We have not left.
“One thing I can tell you is that we have not strayed from our production schedule.”
When it was announced in January that the multimillion-dollar film production studio was coming to the city, the original groundbreaking date was set for sometime in May.
The studio will be built on 104 acres on Enterprise Drive, the site of a former Visteon research and development center, and will include 750,000 square feet of production and post-production support services facilities with eight sound stages. The Lifton Institute of Media Skills, part of the studio project, is scheduled to open in October.
Two months after the scheduled groundbreaking date, there were speculations by residents that the institute would not be built in time to open in the fall. “There are many things that have to be done in a project of this size that may not be visible at first,” Lifton said. “I know that everybody wants to see those big shovels in the ground and knocking down structures and erecting things.”
He added that an immense amount of engineering, specific site work and architectural designs have to be completed to begin construction on the project.
“These things are all moving forward,” he said. “We are still looking for a launch in the fall. That has not changed.
“As far as the school goes, we are looking to have it open in October, that has not changed.”
He added that officials wanted to make sure that things were done properly so nothing will have to be corrected later.
“We are moving forward. We have the money necessary in place to move forward,” Lifton said. “We have many projects and commitments already, starting in 2010, and some things starting in 2009.
“So not only are we wanting to maintain our course, but if I didn’t maintain the course I would have to reschedule productions that are already slated, and that would not be good business.”
One of the issues delaying an official groundbreaking is the approval of the of the project’s Renaissance Zone status by the county. Before signing off on the zone, the county requests the purchase agreement for the land and property, $15 million invested in the project and the written promise of creating at least 1,000 jobs. The zone will free the studio from almost all state and county property taxes.
“We have enough money to start, absolutely,” Lifton said.
He added that he is raising continuously money for Unity and other projects in Los Angeles.
“We are raising money all the time,” he said. “(Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano) and his group, again with all the respect, they have set their own guidelines of what they would like to see from us if we want to take the Renaissance Zone, and that is fine.
“If we actually want to take advantage of the Renaissance Zone, then we will follow the dictums that Mr. Ficano had laid out.”
He added that zone or not, the project is on schedule and will proceed.
Also called to question about the project is the number of actual jobs the studio will create. Lifton said that at capacity, the studio will have more than 3,000 people working on the site.
Not all will be employed by Unity, however. Most will be employed by the companies making movies at the site. Unity will employ people only for scheduling duties, on-site maintenance and other permanent jobs.
“I could have (lied) and asked for thousands,” he said, “but I didn’t because Unity Studios, that entity, will only employ 83 people.
“But we, Unity Studios will be making many, many features and many, many short films every single year, and they will be employing all the different people.”
He added that there will be other movies that come to film at the studios that also will employ people.
“That is how we got the legitimate number of 3,000 (employees),” Lifton said. “For every movie, there are at minimum 100 to 300 people working per movie.
“Those are fully employed, skilled labor, and for the most part on our Unity site it will all be union labor, so everyone is making good wages.”
Lifton added that he will let everyone know when the groundbreaking for the project is to take place, and that he needs to work out the schedules of state officials and “big name” actors and actresses who want to be at the ceremony.
“When I can juggle all these different things, then we will have a groundbreaking,” he said.
He added that the lack of a groundbreaking does not mean that officials are not working.
“We are working nonstop on this project to do what needs to be done,” Lifton said.

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