By BROOKE STEVENSON
Sunday Times Newspapers
ALLEN PARK — With talks of a $100 million film studio in the works, Mayor Gary Burtka clarified what he could for residents at last week’s City Council meeting.
On Jan. 6, among circulating rumors of a possible film production studio in the city, officials released information legally allowed by confidentiality agreements.
The release stated the city is in “heavy discussions” with a Hollywood studio executive with ties to Michigan who intends to build the multimillion dollar studio in the city. The studio would create more than 3,500 full-time jobs locally.
The project site would be 60 acres of land on Enterprise Drive near Southfield, which would include a new municipal complex that has been in the works. The new complex is planned to include City Hall, new Police and Fire departments, a library, the Department of Public Works and possibly the 24th District Court.
“We may have an entire complex rolled up in this project,” Burtka said.
During Tuesday’s meeting he elaborated on some items in the release.
“We’ve received a lot of calls and questions about the new City Hall complex and why the delay,” Burtka said. “Well, I can tell you that the delay is because of something we have been working on since August, on this studio project.”
While residents are excited about the prospect of new jobs coming to the area, there was some concern about residents getting the first pick of them.
“If this film studio becomes a reality it is going to create a lot of jobs,” said resident Malcolm Beaton. “I would hope that this council will get together and put in there that you will hire Allen Park residents first, so they can pay their taxes in this town to keep the Police and Fire departments going, go to our shopping centers and our restaurants.
“But it is up to (the council) to do your homework first, and as elected officials remember three things, Allen Parkers first, Allen Parkers last and Allen Parkers always.”
Burtka assured residents the project is designed to bring jobs into the city for the residents.
“That was the first thing that we had agreed upon, that Allen Park residents would have the first crack at jobs,” he said. “That was done months ago.
“Allen Park people, because we’re the taxpayers, we’re the tax base and that is the premise that we are doing this on, provided that everything is equal.”
The 3,000-plus jobs the studio would bring are very specific types of jobs, so residents will not have the first claim to all of them, but there are hopes that most of them can be offered to residents.
City officials say they are looking out not only for the well-being of residents, but for local businesses as well.
“We want to promote a strong and healthy Allen Park,” Burtka said. “This will bring our property values up. This will fill our empty buildings, and that is our goal.”
To help the process the council appointed Michael Donofrio as the city’s new Economic Development Director. He began in his new position Jan. 5.
He was also brought in to assist the city in benefiting from President-elect Barack Obama’s stimulus package.
Officials hope to get money from the federal government to aid them in the studio endeavor, as well as others they are involved in.
Burtka said officials can’t elaborate much more about the studio because of a confidentiality clause in the agreement with the studio executive, the state of Michigan and Wayne County.
They had written permission from all three entities to release the information they already have. But Burtka did elaborate somewhat on the release when he read it to the residents.
“I can tell you it’s more than a possibility,” he said about previously released information. “It may not happen, but if it doesn’t, it’s because someone in Lansing dropped the ball.”
He believes the jobs created would be “pretty much recession-proof” because the film industry does not suffer like other industries during hard economic times.
“As the economy gets worse, or as it progresses down, the film industry seems to do better, and that is because of a couple reasons,” he said, “For one, people aren’t taking vacations, people aren’t driving their cars to go on vacations because of the price of gas, and they still need entertainment.
“Actually the film industry is doing very well, even in these tough economic times.”
He believes it’s an industry that’s badly needed in Michigan and the city.
“We’re going to be the recipient soon, I hope, to probably one of the biggest ventures the state has ever come into besides the auto industry,” he said.
While he would like to disclose more to residents, he is not able to at this time. It is expected there will be updates within two months.
“When it does occur, and when this does happen, we’re talking about shovel-ready,” he said,“I expect the following day the shovel will be in the ground. That is how fast this is rolling.
“We’re on a freight train going a thousand miles an hour, and anyone who is left on the sideline, well, they’re going to miss the train. But we’re going to be on it, and we’re going to be driving the engine.”