Two pieces of Motown news, breaking on almost the same day.
The first is that Detroit was named by Forbes as the 7th most miserable city in America for 2008 (down a half-dozen notches from first place in 2007, at least). Of course, I hail from #4 (Cleveland), my brother lives in #3 (Chicago), my maternal relatives are snow-bound in #8 (Buffalo), and I currently reside in Beijing (which was only spared from the list because it’s not in America). So I’m laughing “with”, not “at”. 😉
The second piece of news is excerpted from Crain’s Detroit Business and features one of my earliest stateside consulting clients, Wonderstruck Animation Studios:
LANSING – The State of The State address was another stem winder, full of emotional ups and downs. Governor Jennifer Granholm laid out the bleak situation the state finds itself in, saying it will get worse
before it gets better.
“Things will get better,” Granholm said.
She laid out her plans to diversify the economy while modernizing the auto industry, and talked about growing new industries, like the movie business. It was announced earlier Motown Movies will convert a Pontiac truck plant into a studio, but she announced two others last night.
“Wonderstruck Animation Studios will invest $86 million to build a new studio in Detroit. Stardock Systems, a digital gaming manufacturer, will build its production facilities in Plymouth,” Granholm announced.
But it may have just been the pep talk. The real game plan will not be revealed until Granholm delivers her proposed budget to lawmakers next week.
A separate article by Crain’s reporter Bill Shea offers more details on the planned Detroit animation studio:
The vacant Detroit building formerly used as MGM Grand’s temporary casino will be transformed this year into an $86 million Hollywood-style digital animation and visual effects studio directly employing more than 400 people.
The Detroit Center Studios is a partnership between Wonderstruck Studios L.L.C. owned by film and video game deal-maker Michele Richards, a Detroit native, and Los Angeles-based real estate developers SHM Partners.
The state today awarded the project a 12-year, $16.9 million Michigan Economic Growth Authority tax credit and an $11.7 million infrastructure credit under the state’s new film incentive laws.
Detroit also is considering property tax abatements.
The deal calls for the studio to begin operation this year, with 413 direct and 287 indirect jobs.
Terms and financing were not released.
The site is owned by MGM, but it’s unclear if the film studio will buy or lease the facility, which will include sound stages, offices, screening rooms, a commissary, editing bays and other film infrastructure.
“It will be everything a filmmaker needs to come to Michigan and be well taken care of,” Richards said, adding that the project expects to use “every square inch” of the MGM site.
MGM bought and extensively renovated an old 75,000-square-foot Internal Revenue Service building along the Lodge Freeway to house its temporary casino until the new gaming facility opened in October 2007.
The film facility is being modeled on Los Angeles Center Studios, a SHM Partners project that turned an old Unocal headquarters into a modern studio, she said.
“It’s a very similar model, where you take a building not in use with similar infrastructure and some land that works just well enough,” she said.
The Detroit studio will be used for Wonderstruck’s digital animation and graphics work and for outside projects that need film production facilities.
The effort also will include a workforce training program aimed at engineers, artists and others already familiar with 3-D software applications, Richards said.
The studio also will bring in veteran Hollywood professionals with experience at Dreamworks, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney, she added.
Richards said she was involved in the worldwide marketing and distribution of the popular “Guitar Hero” video games, and a number of straight-to-video animated features.
Not involved in the effort is Richards’ husband John, who is head of worldwide creative for Warner Home Entertainment.
She declined to name the other principals, but said none at this point are from Michigan.
About a dozen other sites were considered by settling on the MGM property, she said, without naming any of the locations.
“We felt like most of them would take a long time to bring to market,” she said.
Opening a new animation studio is a tough row to hoe, especially in these economically challenging times. Yet, the very financial woes which have put so many animators out of work in Los Angeles and the Bay Area may in fact work to the advantage of Detroit, which – let’s face it – is not the most appealing geographic draw.
Governor Granholm continues the trend of many state leaders who offer economic incentives to bring film work into their backyards on the promise of job creation – hoping to exchange their rust belts for money belts. The carrot seems to be attracting the companies, but will the talent follow suit?
Perhaps. Where else can you buy a house for a dollar? 😉