By Mike Householder
The Associated Press
The sign held up by someone in the back of the crowd said it all: "Hollywood 48101."
The yearslong dream of bringing a film and television production facility to the Detroit area took a big step forward with Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony at what will become Unity Studios.
Allen Park Mayor Gary Burtka and studio President Jimmy Lifton said the complex officially opens in October and begins filming its first project in November.
"I want to welcome everybody to 'Hollywood 48101' as it is to be known," Burtka said to applause from hundreds of city residents and others who came to the celebration.
Just a few months ago, the plan to refurbish the site – an auto supplier's former research and development complex – and transform it into a Hollywood-style movie studio was in danger of falling apart.
But Burtka, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, and other local and state government officials were able to obtain the necessary tax credits, incentives and other funding to make it a reality.
The studio is being counted on to provide a shot in the arm to an area hurt badly by the recession and a steep downturn in the auto industry.
When completed, the 104-acre studio will include sound stages and other facilities to create and edit movies, television programs and other productions.
Also in October, the Lifton Institute for Media Skills will open at the site for its first class of 250 students who will be trained for jobs in the film industry.
Michigan has been drawing more moviemakers since tax incentives – among the most generous in the nation – went into effect last year.
But the available pool of carpenters, former auto workers and others displaced by the area's slumping economy also helped in the decision to locate the studio in Allen Park, a couple of highway exits from Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
"This is a win," Ficano said. "Not only for Allen Park and the area, but for the region."
Unity Studios is majority-owned by a group of investors from both Michigan and Los Angeles, including Lifton, a veteran Hollywood film executive.
He was the center of attention at Thursday's event, posing for pictures with residents and slapping hands with passers-by who thanked him for his efforts to make the studio a reality.
Lifton, who originally is from the Detroit suburb of Southfield and is a veteran of both the film and music industries, predicts a long life for Unity Studios.
"We will be here tomorrow, a year from now, 25 years, 50 years, 100 years," he said.
After Lifton addressed the crowd, he and Burtka headed over for a photo opportunity in front of an oversized film clapboard. Each man grabbed an end of it, slammed it down and yelled "Jobs!" as their pictures were snapped.