ALLEN PARK (WXYZ) - An Action News Investigation of Unity Studios unhappy ending in Allen Park. We have some answers for taxpayers demanding to know what it cost them. It appears the city paid millions to land the studio and got very little in return.
The taxpayers in Allen Park are fighting mad about this movie deal that’s gone bust. Last night they were demanding to know the terms of the lease between Unity Studios and the city. Tonight we have the details of the deal.
Now that the doors are locked at Unity Studios and the movie sets are packed up, the taxpayers in Allen Park want to know why the city bought this building in the first place.
"All the citizens in this town want to know, what did you spend and what did you spend it at," asked resident Denise Hunt.
"Everything about this, nobody knows where the money went."
In May, Hollywood producer Jimmy Lifton was showing off the studios and his Lifton Institute for Media Skills. But last month, Lifton abruptly left, leaving behind empty desks and empty promises.
At the time, Unity Studios spokseman Eric Cedo said Unity Studios has trained 200 people, but wouldn't explain what happened to the 3,000 jobs and 150 million dollars in economic development that Lifton promised.
The Action News Investigators first exposed concerns about Allen Park’s purchase of the old Visteon property that housed Unity and other tenants. The city paid $25.5 million for it – even though state records showed it was only worth $14 million.
In May, Allen Park Mayor Gary Burtka told me the property was a great buy, saying he would make the same deal again today.
But the outrage from citizens may have Mayor Burtka second guessing that. They’re demanding to know the details of the deal with Jimmy Lifton. At a council meeting Tuesday, Burtka wasn’t answering those questions, but now the Investigators have copies of the city’s lease agreement with Unity Studios.
The first lease that started in October of 2008 was for a 500 square foot conference room inside city hall. Lifton owed the city $6,000 for that workspace.
In October of 2009, Lifton and the mayor entered into a second, far more complicated lease for the multi-acre property next door to the city offices.
According to that lease, Unity Studios would occupy approximately 95,000 square feet, at a rate of $3 a square foot. That brought Lifton’s yearly lease amount to $285,000.
Also in that deal, as part of a $3 Million capital improvement bond, Allen Park would shell out up to $250,000 to create an entry gate for Unity Studios. The city would also spend up to $200,000 in bond money to repave the gigantic parking lot.
On May 23, 2010, Lifton and Allen Park struck a new deal. Unity Studios decreased their lease space. Now they’d only be using about 56,000 square feet. The total yearly rent for the 2010 deal would have been just more than $168,000.
As part of this lease, the city had to spend $225,000 on “tenant improvements.” It’s not clear what improvements were made to a studio that now sits vacant.
While those lease agreements may offer the taxpayers some insight into this failed project, it’s still not clear why the city paid so much for this building, based on so little information.
“How many jobs has he created," asked Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
"You’d have to ask Jimmy Lifton that. I don’t know," said Burtka.
It’s not clear how much rent Jimmy Lifton actually handed over to the city throughout Unity Studios short time in Allen Park. City officials say they were up to date on the required payments when they left, but we don’t know if that means they paid the full terms of all 3 leases, or just the current one.
Copyright (c) 2010 The E.W. Scripps Company
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