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State to give boost to West Side film studio working on ‘Boss’

A worker sands ceiling Monday entryway Cinespace Chicago Film Studios newly opened former RyersSteel site. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

A worker sands the ceiling Monday of the entryway at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, newly opened on a former Ryerson Steel site. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 13, 2011 2:15AM

A new West Side film studio has begun operations and is expected to collect state aid Tuesday as it aims to become the Chicago area’s largest host for creators of movies and TV shows.

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, an offshoot of a Toronto company, has taken over a building at 2558 W. 16th St. that used to belong to Ryerson Steel. The site is busy with its first job — shooting for a cable drama called “Boss” that stars Kelsey Grammer as the mayor of Chicago.

The studio carries high hopes from local governments and trade unions, which hope it will draw job-rich productions to Chicago. But it’s starting out small after promises in 2009 that it would create thousands of jobs.

Gov. Quinn is expected to visit the operation Tuesday, bearing a $3 million grant for Cinespace. Sources said the money will come from the Illinois Jobs Now program, meant mostly to bankroll highway improvements and other public works, and that the state will provide $2 million more if the company hits targets for expansion.

A spokeswoman for Quinn said there is a “state capital component associated with the new Chicago film studio” but declined to discuss details.

Nick Mirkopoulos, owner of Cinespace Chicago, said he hopes to acquire the entire Ryerson Inc. site, a 48-acre complex east of Douglas Park. For now, he said he closed on the purchase of his first building in March, paying Ryerson $3.3 million.

The 450,000-square-foot building could accommodate five to seven stages and is attractive to production companies because office space is attached to it, Mirkopoulos said.

His Toronto company, Cinespace Studios, is well known to filmmakers who seek a break on costs by shooting scenes in Canada. It has more than 700 major films to its credit.

He hopes a Chicago operation can take advantage of Illinois’ 30 percent tax credit for production costs and worker salaries for the film industry. It also could provide stage facilities on a scale not seen here before.

“It’s an essential piece of the puzzle that Chicago or any city needs to fully service the industry,” said Rich Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office. He said Cinespace facilities could let productions set up soundstages for extended use.

But the Cinespace studio and its state subsidy could hurt Chicago Studio City, 5660 W. Taylor, which calls itself the biggest filming complex between the U.S. coasts.

Owner John Crededio said the state has turned down his requests to help expand his nearly 120,000-square-foot facility.

“I wish them well, but how do I compete when the state is subsidizing them?” he said.

Mirkopoulos said he’s been working on his deal for nearly three years. State lawmakers approved the aid package in 2009, but the money was deferred while a tough market for financing delayed the project.

He declined to say how many jobs are associated with his Chicago site, but said he still hopes he can generate thousands of jobs here. Many of them are union workers involved in set construction.

Quinn’s announcement came amid record spending levels by movie and television makers in Illinois.

In 2010, production companies spent $161 million in the state, 54 percent more than in 2009. Last year’s spending totals were buoyed by production of “Transformers III,” “Contagion,” “The Dilemma” and “The Chicago Code.”

“This demonstrates Illinois is attractive not just to traditional businesses and corporations but also to major Hollywood productions,”Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said. “It shows the state’s film tax credit has been a really effective tool in spurring growth of our film industry here.”

Ryerson, a metals processor, wants to exit the West Side property that serves as its headquarters, but it has said it expects to keep the headquarters and at least 500 jobs in the Chicago area.

Contributing: Dave McKinney

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