It’s built and no one’s coming

A lot of good people believe that “if you build it, they will come.”

In many cases that philosophy of business is true: If you’ve got the goods, customers will respond.

If customers are in the market for what you’ve got, that is.

We’ve got the goods in Chicago Studio City, the biggest and best sound stage complex between coasts. If Hollywood were in the market for stages in Chicago, CSC would be crackling with activity, as it once was.

That was before Canada.

Before Hollywood Blvd. and Madison Ave. discovered they could get good work cheap in strange places outside the U.S.

Before state governments were bankrupt and attracting movie production — icing on the commerce and tourism cake ? became an unnecessary expense. (Yes, we all know the arguments for putting the icing back on.)

I was quite surprised, then, when I read that IFO director Brenda Sexton, a former commercial real estate broker, recently stated, “We are working on creating an additional soundstage facility.”

We believe the property she was referring to is a former automobile stamping plant at 95th and Stony Island, for sale at $11 million.

While, admittedly, we have not seen it personally, several knowledgable filmmakers have. They describe it as a cluster of “gigantic buildings” situated on 30 to 40 acres of land.

Imagine the cost of converting these huge buildings into “an additional soundstage” when John Crededio has this perfectly good West Side stage complex for sale.

Hundreds of big-budget features and TV series have filmed there since the mid-?80s, until Canada kept winning the bids.

Over his 15 years of pouring millions of dollars into stages and equipment, Crededio built five stages and offices that sit on 24 acres right off the expressway, a scant 15-minute drive from Michigan Ave.

Two new buildings are patterned after the Sony Studios in L.A. Inside the 42,000-sq. ft. state-of-the-art building is a mammoth 30,000-sq. ft. stage. The second building contains 12,000-sq. ft. of office space.

Parking is easy, with 100,000-sq. ft. for cars in front and 100,000-sq. ft. for trucks in back.

Ironically, the raw Stony Island factory is being touted as a “soundstage facility,” while developers bidding on Studio City want to convert those perfectly good sound stages into industrial or retail uses. Dare we say…go figure?

Since Crededio hung a “for sale” sign on the property 18 months ago, some 35 prospects have gone through the facility, said Ron DeRosa, long-time CSC VP/general manager.

The most recent group included the local film college. As explained by a group member, the college would have been the studio’s main tenant. The rent the college would have paid, estimated at around $90,000 a month, would’ve covered the debt service on a bank loan. But $2 million was needed immediately, however, since the college could not begin paying rent for 18 months.

Wouldn’t it make better sense to find investors for that $2 million and acquire Studio City’s existing stages, than to spend untold millions to acquire property and convert it into stages?

If the state really wanted to retain Studio City, as urged from the get-go (in early White Papers, committee reports and the media), it could find the means to do so. Diverting $2 million dollars from the state pork fund, or from Tourism’s massive promotion budget, would do the job.

But let’s say Crededio sells Studio City and the state doesn’t have a movie studio for that big rush of Hollywood feature and television business that everyone hopes will materialize. Then what?

According to a recent IPA Report: “The state and the city acknowledge the importance of having at least one facility to handle large-scale projects. However, since there are several options involving private entities and investors, the state and city are carefully looking at each to determine which would be the best ? and most appropriate ? for them to fully endorse.

What does “fully endorse” mean?

Does it mean that the state (well-meaning but $5 billion in debt) and the city (historically indifferent to the film industry’s plight) will publicly endorse it, as in, yeah, we feel it’s a great idea? Or in, yeah, we’ll help find money to fund it?

That begs the really BIG question. Why does the city/state have this urgent need to acquire/build/convert stages when there is no business.

No features, no TV shows, no indie films, no docs. Nothing coming our way from Brenda Sexton’s good friend Tom Rosenberg of Lakeshore Productions’ slate of movies.

Seems like “Barber Shop 2” will be the only major studio feature that will be shot in Chicago in 2003.

The sad fact is, they’ve already built it and nobody’s coming.*