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 Michelle 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 principles, 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.