Studio Center piling up production interest, bills

Photo by Chris Jackett

Photo by Chris Jackett

The Allen Park Studio Center sits among the construction along Southfield Road, but is slowly building up on the inside.

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – The Studio Center project is making progress, officials say, but it is costing the city a good chunk of change.

Ferndale-based S3 Entertainment Group recently was hired to manage film operations at the enter. It joins Southfield-based Real Estate Development and Investment Co. – better known as REDICO – in managing the 104-acre property on Southfield Road, south of I-94.

“We have a memorandum of agreement for them to manage us,” Mayor Gary Burtka said of S3. “REDICO is only involved with marketing of the property and management of the tenants. S3’s goals and objectives (are) to bring in projects.”

REDICO will focus on facilities management, operation and leasing for the complex, while S3 will focus on securing films and production for the film-focused campus.

The latter firm could bring several new businesses to the Studio Center and is one of the companies responsible for getting “Gran Torino” filmed in Michigan two years ago.

“We know S3 has proven they’ve been involved with movies in Michigan,” Burtka said. “They’ve been around a few years. In the discussions with them, there’s five businesses associated with productions. We’re looking at maximizing the opportunities.”

The new management agreement came within a week of a July 13 City Council payment approval for nearly $444,000 to REDICO. The city, however, had only $232,000 in available funds and city officials said the $211,000 shortfall could not be paid off through bond funds.

However, Burtka said he believes everyone had been paid, but deferred the question to City Administrator Eric Waidelich, who did not respond to messages left throughout the week seeking comment about how the shortfall would be addressed. Numbers for the total amount of money spent on the Studio Center’s development also were not readily available at press time.

The city took control of the Studio Center in October 2009 and is in the process of selling it to Global Renaissance Entertainment, a nationally known movie production company that has secured commitments from producers of movies such as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “300.”

“Global Renaissance is still there,” Burtka said. “They’re in due diligence. They’re interested in buying the complex. We didn’t want to board it up on Southfield Road. It would be blight.

“There’s other cities around the state, that I won’t name, that are blight. I don’t want blight in Allen Park.”

Other Studio Center tenants include production company Unity Studios, manufacturer Scenic Prop and Design, the technology division of Roush Technologies and educators including the Lifton Institute for Media Skills, Stautzenberger Institute and Center for Film Studies.

Burtka also said a 160,000-square-foot concrete floor was installed in the 160 Building last week and another production company looked at the facility. The building has room for four stages.

“We are actually moving forward in baby steps,” Burtka said. “The state is going backward. We’re swimming up current, but at least we’re making headway.”

Production offices for the film “Vamps,” starring Sigourney Weaver (“Aliens,” “Avatar”), Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless,” “Batman & Robin”) and Krysten Ritter (“Confessions of a Shopaholic,” “Gravity” TV series), are also on site. The movie is about two female vampires in New York City.

Unity Studios, the original anchor of the Studio Center run by producer and President Jimmy Lifton, also recently announced production of its first feature-length film, “War Flowers.” It is a Civil War-era family drama starring Christina Ricci (“The Addams Family,” “Sleepy Hollow”), Jason Gedrick (“Backdraft”), Tom Berenger (“Platoon,” “Major League”) and introducing Gabrielle Popa (“Edge of Darkness”).

“When I founded Unity Studios and the Lifton Institute for Media Skills, my goal was twofold: to bring a new industry to my home state and to put people to work,” Lifton said. “This movie is the embodiment of those goals because it is being crafted entirely in Michigan, and 55 LIMS graduates have been hired to put the skills they’ve learned to use as members of the crew.”

(Contact Chris Jackett at