Friday, February 05, 2010

Hangar 42: Movie Jobs for West Michigan

This old Lear/GM plant will house Hangar 42 Film Studios

During the SotS Address Wednesday night, the governor rattled off a bunch of cities and companies that are creating jobs for the new Michigan economy. Renewable energy, automotive, life sciences, movie studios, other big name projects, all in the works or already creating jobs, with thousands to follow in the next few years. This stuff doesn't happen overnight, you know. When she said, "In Grand Rapids, Hangar 42 Film Studios", it was a moment of confusion for me. I'm usually on top of these things, I had no idea what in the world she was talking about.

Turns out that I actually did know what she was referring to, it just didn't have a name yet. And it was going to be a blog post of mine. After seeing a story in the AP in mid-January about how cities were struggling to find uses for the old, sprawling, automotive manufacturing facilities across the country, I immediately thought of the old GM/Lear plant in Walker (Walker borders Grand Rapids). Built in 1942 for production of WWII airplanes, its last tenant was Lear, building seating parts for the auto industry. They packed up and left for Mexico some time ago, and the place appeared abandoned, weeds growing in the parking lot, just another remnant of our industrial past. Slowly though, it started coming back, when developers took interest in dividing it up and turning into an industrial park. A couple of spaces are taken - one of those being GR Spring & Stamping, which is currently on overdrive manufacturing the fix for Toyota's accelerator problem. Another is Haviland Enterprises, which makes chemical solvents, amongst other things.

So, two pieces of the building are occupied and refurbished, but for the most part, there was that big 'ol brick building sitting there, empty. A hint of the future came when "The Genesis Code" shot some footage there last year, and just recently, 50 Cent came back to town and blew up a cop car in the building. That happened about the same time the AP story came out, and bingo, blog post, right? Well, it was one of those things I had tucked away, and now the governor beat me to it - but it turns out they have been planning this for over a year, and they have been keeping it a secret until they were sure they were good to go.

The Hangar 42 announcement came on Wednesday, and this is expected to bring up to 1000 jobs to the location within the next three years. Movie makers from across the world are already inquiring about the studio, which will house the world's largest single room sound stage. The Michigan Film Office expects to see some blockbusters filmed here.

A facility like this also gives Michigan the opportunity to compete for really big movies. The state's tax incentives aren't really set up to lure star-driven blockbusters, because the state doesn't pay out as much as other places for salaries that are in the millions of dollars.

But Ken Droz of the Michigan film office says a place like Hangar42 could draw the blockbusters in anyway.

"If they want to make an Indiana Jones movie, or a James Bond, or Batman and they need miles of square footage, they pretty much have that there," he says.

Perhaps more importantly, though, this space also makes it possible for a full time movie infrastructure. Indoor shoots don't have to worry about the Michigan winters. And Hangar42 is also much more than just a big room. There will be lots of office space, a huge cafeteria to feed crews, a theater to review footage before moving on to the next scene.

Not only that, surrounding businesses will see the benefit of the work there. Alpine Ave. is home to mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, and every large national chain you can think of, right down the street. All should see increased traffic with something this large coming to the area.

The best line about this story? A promise is fulfilled. I just had to laugh when I read this:

And it's a big step to take for a town that still doesn't even have direct flight service to LA. All those Hollywood big-shots have to endure layovers to even get to Grand Rapids.

But Buchanan says he's had a few of them out to tour this place.

"They came in a little bit like, this is Grand Rapids, I'll see it when I believe it," he says. "And they frankly were blown away by everything the area had to offer."

Happy birthday, Governor. You were right all along. Thank you for bringing this industry to our state. If there is one area of the economy that can weather a recession, it's entertainment - and it sure looks like we have the start of something really big. And I couldn't be more thrilled that it is happening in Grand Rapids.

Now we just have to keep Cassis and other Republicans from ruining it, and we will be just fine.