At last, new Cinespace stage complex under construction

The timing couldn’t be worse. The much-anticipated Cinespace Chicago film studio was into construction on the first phase of the soundstages when the House rushed to pass Senate Bill 4 that calls for ending Illinois’ tax incentives in five years.

The 350,000-sq. ft. soundstage is the first of the plan for be eight contiguous stages on the 48 acre former Ryerson Steel Campus between Ogden and Western Avenues on the Near Southwest Side.

When the 1.2 million sq. ft. studio complex is completed at a cost of $80 million, it will be the biggest in North America outside of Hollywood and provide 6,000 jobs.Cinespace will occupy the former Ryerson plant.

But Cinespace Chicago has stated it will leave Chicago if SB4 passes.

Toronto-based Nick Mirkopoulous, chairman of Cinespace Studios, and owner of three other Canadian studios, and members of his extended family as investors, purchased the former Ryerson steel plant for $20 million.

Alex Pisseos, Mirkopoulous’ nephew and a Chicago realtor, is in charge of Chicago studio and has been overseeing the massive clean-up and construction 24/7.

The deal to acquire the century-old, almost empty former steel plant was initiated in November, 2009.  Shortly thereafter, the Illinois senate endorsed a $5 million grant for the operation that has not been issued, due to the state’s cash-strapped financial woes.

Two projects that headquartered and shot at Chicago Film Studios were the massive production of “Transformers 3” and the Showtime series, “Shameless,” which was recently renewed for a second season.  Although Chicago-set “Shameless” isn’t produced in Chicago, a large second unit shoots here 10 days a season.

All things being equal – the no-sunset clause remains intact and  Chicago Cinespace is completed – “We would have a new era in local film production,” says Mark Hogan, business manager of Local 476 and president of the Illinois Production Alliance.

“With its giant stages and offices, Cinespace will open new opportunities for all filmmakers in Chicago and hopefully attract the steady work of blockbuster features and episodic television.”

Chicago has a large, experienced work force of an estimated 10,500, which includes a total 2,500 members in all the IATSE locals, 2,500 vendor and production companies and independent film workers and 5,000 local members of AFTRA and SAG.