Local investors are new studio owners

While it was believed the owner of three Toronto movie studios was also the owner of an $80 million movie studio for Chicago, it turns out that a local group of investors are the real owners.

Nick Mirkopoulos, chairman of Cinespace Studios, who is brokering the deal for the purchase of the Ryerson Steel property, said his company will simply manage the studio.

In fact, Mirkopoulos said, the contract hasn’t been finalized for the Ryerson property, though he is confident that it will be. “We have an understanding and we have an agreement on certain things.”

Corporate filing records from the Illinois Secretary of State indicate that the management for Chicago Film Studios Holdings, LLC, is Nick Pissios. According to the Chicago Film Office, Nick’s nephew, Alex Pissios, is acting as the Chicago rep for the deal.

Emails to Alex regarding his and his uncle’s involvement were not returned as of deadline. But Nick’s Facebook friends include a number of Mirkopoulos friends as well, indicating a deeper connection between the two families.

Mirkopoulos wouldn’t say whether he, his brothers or his nephews ? who are currently running Cinespace in Toronto ? are personally investors in the Chicago deal. He stressed only that Cinespace was not the owner.

Private investors not paying the entire $80 million

“We are managing the business, the investors are from Chicago, it’s an American project and we are going to have the management for five years,” stated Mirkopoulos.

Where the money is coming from to build and manage the property is unclear. Chicago Film Studios was given a $5 million grant from the Build Illinois Bond Fund from the state legislature.

But the entire project ? with some five to seven studios and office space when completed ? is estimated to cost nearly $80 million. Mirkopoulos indicated that the private investors were not paying for all of that. In fact, Mirkopoulos said he wasn’t even sure of the $5 million.

“It’s a promise,” Mirkopoulos said, “but these grants have attachments.”

He pointed out, however, that Toronto pays 100 percent of building and property expenses and then leases the property to the company, 5 percent is not going to be enough.

“When one is subsidized 100 percent, you can’t play on the same playing field,” Mirkopoulos said, adding that “we will work with [the city and state] to make it the same playing field.”

Pressed further, Mirkopoulos said, “Maybe it’s going to be 40-50 percent of the investors’ money and the rest is going to come from grants.” That, though, is going to be “three to four times more for the investors than any other jurisdiction” outside the United States.

But money issues don’t seem to be stopping the project.

Cinespace has announced that a 330,000-sq. ft. warehouse and some office space will be converted and ready for production by January.

Mirkopoulos, who is from Greece, shrugs off any possibility of building permit issues with the city. “We can get a very easy permit because we are using existing structure,” he said, adding, however some soundproofing might be necessary.

In addition, part of the property includes an intersection, so companies can shoot street scenes. According to sources, Chicago Film Studios will buy other buildings as they go along, and Ryerson will keep a small presence on the property for at least five years.

Producers’ studio inquiries are flowing into Toronto

Mirkopoulos says that since news of the project was broken by ReelChicago Wednesday, he has received 15-20 Emails from producers in Los Angeles interested in when the studio will be completed.

“It’s very positive,” he said. “We are going to go out and get the business, like we did in Toronto.”

Helping get the business are the Teamsters who, according to ReelChicago, are bending over backwards to make film production affordable in Chicago with Chicago Film Studios.

“The unions are very flexible and have liberal work rules, which makes Chicago very user friendly,” said John Coli, Sr., secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 727 and president of Teamsters Joint Council 25.

With the help from the unions, Mirkopoulos pointed out, Chicago can take advantage of something Toronto doesn’t have: the kind of loyalty former Chicagoans have to their city.

“The Chicago boys [in L.A.], they say, ?When are you opening so we can go back home?'”– Carrie L. Kaufman, editor,