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Muskegon movie studios developer plans to break ground this year on $60 million project

MUSKEGON — The once-dormant plan to develop movie studios in a portion of the former Shaw-Walker facility, slowed by the Great Recession, is being revived with a new team of film-industry insiders and an aggressive timeline.
And, according to those involved, the studio project will go on with or without Michigan's film tax incentives. Gov. Rick Snyder and state legislators are in the midst of considering various options in reducing or eliminating one of the country's most aggressive tax credits for moviemaking.
Sarah Rooks, president of Watermark Center, unveiled the renewed effort for the local movie studios Wednesday night during a grand-opening event of Watermark's second phase, an event center called Watermark 920.
Watermark CEO Moses Gross, who attended the event, and a group of his fellow New Yorkers who have connections to the film industry plan on building a $60 million, all-purpose movie-production facility, beginning with a first phase covering 250,000 square feet. Gross said they plan to break ground by the end of the year and hope to have the first phase completed by the end of 2012.
Gross said he is committed to the movie-studio project regardless of the result following the ongoing debate about Michigan's film tax incentive, but he believes it would be advantageous to maintain the tax credit for the industry in the state.
“It will bring back a new industry to the state,” Gross said, referring to the recent drop in movies being made in Michigan following the governor's proposal to cap the credits at $25 million. “Why destroy an industry that has great potential?”
Leo Hirata, executive director of Watermark Studios USA, said he is looking forward to being involved with the project. With his background in Wall Street and forging business relationships between those in the U.S. and China, Hirata will be responsible for developing relationships for Watermark with the film industry and financial backers.
“I saw his commitment and his vision,” Hirata said of joining Gross' group.
Ed Martin, a line producer who has handled several studio and independent feature films, said he agreed to look into joining the project after hearing Moses' conviction for the development regardless of the tax incentives.
“I'll admit I was a little bit skeptical before getting here,” Martin said, touring the facility and the area for the first time Tuesday. “Now I see what he's got planned. It will be great for Michigan, the city and the film industry.”
The plans call for an all-purpose facility of studios for filmmakers. It is expected to feature space for pre-production, production and post-production activities.
Watermark officials initially announced plans in 2008 to create the production studios in part of the former Shaw-Walker office furniture manufacturing complex. That announcement came soon after the state's aggressive film incentives were introduced.
At that time, Gross was set to partner with filmmaker Andrew van den Houten, head of the New York-based production company Moderncine.
The proposed project stalled during the economic downturn and, in 2010, van den Houten pulled out of the project after one of his movie projects was denied a Michigan tax credit. That movie was initially set to be shot in and around Muskegon.

Developer aims to sell Carroll Gardens condo for $15.5M

ANM Group has pulled its Carroll Gardens condominium from the sales market in hopes of selling it to an investor seeking to capitalize on Brooklyn’s booming rental market, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Karl Fischer-designed 11-story, 20-unit building, at 100 Luquer Street, took years to build thanks to financial difficulty and community opposition that ultimately forced a reduction in height. The homes finally hit the market with MNS brokerage in October, with asking prices starting at $599,000. This week the listings were pulled.
Both MNS and ANM insisted the decision had nothing to do with the sales pace, but that they decided to make the move because of current market conditions. The median sales price in Carroll Gardens was $675 per square foot in the third quarter, while rents at nearby rental 360 Smith Street averaged about $50 per square foot. The developer is seeking $15.5 million for the building. 
Industry sources were skeptical that ANM would make the switch if it believed it was going to be able to sell the units at a good price. Instead, Ken Freeman, senior vice president at Massey Knakal Realty Services, said the firm was probably emboldened by the $60 million Atlanta-based Invesco paid for the Arias in Park Slope to enter the Brooklyn rental market. [WSJ]

Muskegon movie studio would mean jobs, dollars for the area, officials say

Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011, 7:10 PM Updated: Sunday, May 29, 2011, 7:50 PM
By John S. Hausman | Muskegon Chronicle Follow 

MUSKEGON - It's too early for hard numbers, but local, regional and state officials are optimistic that renewed plans for a movie-production facility near downtown Muskegon would spin off jobs and other economic benefits for the community.

“It would have a tremendous impact ... a lot of well-paying jobs,” said Rick Hert, film commissioner for the Grand Rapids-based West Michigan Film Office.
Officials of Watermark Center, the redeveloped former Shaw-Walker office furniture manufacturing plant at Western Avenue and Division Street, on Wednesday announced a second phase of the project called Watermark 920 — a 10,000-square-foot event and conference center.

Watermark Chief Executive Officer Moses Gross, who attended the event, said a group of his fellow New Yorkers who have connections to the film industry plan on building a $60 million, all-purpose movie-production facility. It will start with a first phase covering 250,000 square feet. Gross said they plan to break ground by the end of this year and hope to have the first phase completed by the end of 2012.

The plans call for an all-purpose facility of studios for filmmakers. It is expected to feature space for preproduction, production and post-production activities.

An earlier project announced in 2008 stalled during the economic downturn.
Sarah Rooks, Muskegon-based president of Watermark Center, said Thursday she's been told the new studio project will include “a blend of local (employees) and people brought in. I can say definitively they will hire local people (during film production). The people in the key positions, we're all local.”

The developers already are working with local construction companies, Rooks said.
“It's wonderful news,” Muskegon Mayor Steve Warmington said. He's particularly pleased that Gross said he plans to proceed with the project even if Michigan cuts back its generous policy of tax credits for the movie industry, which Gov. Rick Snyder wants to cap at $25 million.

“It's just a creative way to use a significant amount of the square footage of the building,” Warmington said.

The Watermark announcement is also welcome news to the Michigan Film Office, the state agency charged with promoting the industry.

“Our office hasn't had conversations with this project, so I can't speak specifically to it, but anytime we are continuing to build and bring infrastructure to the state, it helps to grow the film industry,” said Michelle Begnoche, spokeswoman for the Michigan Film Office. “It's great to see things happening on the west side of the state.”

Email: jhausman@muskegonchronicle.com Related topics: Editor's Choice, Muskegon