No China trip, officials say, but additional LA studio investment sought

“I want to make sure that jobs stay in Michigan and jobs stay in Allen Park, and that our residents are employed first and our area is employed first.” — Mayor Gary Burtka

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – A push by city officials to seek more investors in sound stage construction at the movie studio complex south of City Hall included a recent visit to Los Angeles, but apparently will not take them to China.

In response to what some in the city have been saying in recent weeks, Mayor Gary Burtka and City Administrator Eric Waidelich on Tuesday strongly denied any plans or intentions for such a trip.

Some sound stage construction, however, currently is occurring, according to Burtka, who hopes to build more of them and create more jobs for city residents.

“I’m not aware of anybody from Allen Park or the studio going to China,” Burtka said Tuesday. “People from China have asked us as a city to go, and at this time we’re interested in jobs for local residents here in Allen Park.”

When asked whether investors from China were interested in coming to the city to meet with local officials or Unity Studios, Burtka declined to make a comment on the record.

He has said that outside investor money is needed to build sound stages, and that bringing movie production to the city was contingent upon several being built. He confirmed that construction and filming already are well under way.

“There are sound stages being built as we speak; there are movies being filmed here in Allen Park,” Burtka said. “Last week there was a movie being filmed in Taylor, Michigan, from the Allen Park Lifton Institute of Media Skills, so there is a movie being shot currently as we speak.”

He also said additional capital investment could increase the number of movies shot locally.

Asked if officials will seek U.S. investors primarily, or widen their search to foreign investors, Burtka said, “Well, more sound stages would bring more movies.

“(But) we’re not looking overseas, no. Money will come from within the United States. We’re speaking to investors out of LA currently now who are very interested in what we’re doing here in Allen Park, and the state of Michigan.

“I foresee that this spring additional sound stages will be built which are comparable to the sound stages in LA.”

Burtka said officials have not been approached by Chinese investors at this time, nor is he aware of anyone from the city going to China.

“I think right now we need to explore all U.S. sources,” he said. “I want to make sure that jobs stay in Michigan and jobs stay in Allen Park, and that our residents are employed first and our area is employed first.”

Burtka did say, however, that China is doing a lot of investing in the United States.

“They (China) have a business in Allen Park call DIAS (the Detroit International Auto Salon) which is tied to the automotive industry which really … hasn’t developed to the potential that the prior administration had said it would.

“Not to take anything away from them; the automobile industry in the United States is undergoing change. Nobody was prepared for that change, and obviously, because as you’ve seen, two of the largest automotive producers filed for bankruptcy.”

Burtka expressed concern that foreign investors not take jobs away from local residents. “First and foremost in Allen Park, we promote buy Allen Park, shop Allen Park, live Allen Park, work Allen Park, and we will continue to promote that,” he said. “The whole philosophy of bringing Unity Studios on board was to bring jobs to our residents and our area first and foremost.

“One of the conditions was that when Jimmy Lifton started the school here, he would only bring people over to start the school, (and) train them, because we didn’t have the trainers. People would be trained to put on the schools, and local residents would get those jobs.”

Burtka noted that some of the studio personnel have settled in the area.

“Now some of the California people that did come over have actually decided they liked Michigan, and they now have become residents of Michigan,” he said. “And some of them are even residents of Allen Park, which is a good thing, because usually there’s an exodus of people leaving Michigan.

“This is the first I’ve heard of people moving into Michigan and buying our homes. And I welcome them … because they are now Michiganders and Allen Parkers, or whatever city in the area around this area they live in.”

Burtka is pleased with the two major studios in the city now – WAR Entertainment and Unity Studios.

“We’re in discussions with a third (studio),” said Burtka. “So very shortly, possibly within 60 to 90 days you’ll be reading about it in some of the papers. And up to that point we’re not going to talk about that any further.”

He said he would welcome a Chinese investor who created jobs in the city reiterated that the city is not currently in discussions with any Chinese investors.

The mayor was noncommittal on whether he would welcome a Chinese investor who wanted to finance a sound stage in the complex.

“Bring me the investor,” he said. “And we’ll talk.”