February 24, 2009 at 1:00 am

Freep building eyed for film jobs

Motor City Film Works claims on its Web site that it will turn the former Detroit Free Press building into a film facility. (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)

The new owners of the former Free Press building are looking to convert the abandoned newspaper offices into a production studio that will tap into the state's burgeoning film industry.

Go to the Web site of Motor City Film Works and the new company lists its address as 321 W. Lafayette Blvd. and displays an image of the old Free Press building, which has been empty for several years.

"We intend to turn the former printing press area into a sound stage. That's 80,000-square-feet of space," said Richard Gerber, 46, of Troy, who owns a technology firm called Intelegen Inc.

Gerber said he's formed a venture partnership with the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., real estate company that bought the Free Press building in December.

Owner Lynn Kassotis said last week an announcement is likely in a few months. She could not be reached late Monday.

Gerber said he and his partners are looking to ensure the venture will qualify for the state's tax incentives package that has caused a recent boom in film, video and television production in Michigan.

The incentives give producers 40 cents back for every $1 they spend on production, double Michigan's old rebate, and an additional 2 percent rebate if the project is shot in certain Michigan communities.

It also gives a 25 percent tax credit to companies investing in new film and digital media studios.

Another incentive covers 50 percent of on-the-job training expenses for state residents working as crew members.

"Eventually we hope to offer the entire building into a space devoted to the film, video and television industry," Gerber said.

The Albert Kahn-designed buildings consists of two six-story wings flanking a 13-story central tower.

The state's Michigan Film Office is not in talks with the possible venture, said Michael Shore, spokesman for film office.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced plans for two new studios during her State of the State address.

An $86 million digital animation and visual effects studio to be called the Detroit Center Studios will set up shop in the former MGM Grand Casino downtown.

In Pontiac, a $70.7 million film production studio called Motown Motion Picture Studios was announced for General Motors Corp.'s former Centerpoint plant.

Further, a $900,000 expansion of video and computer gaming company called Stardock Systems Inc. in Plymouth also is planned.

Since the passage of the tax incentives, 32 films have been produced in Michigan with 40 in the works -- compared to the six produced in the year before the incentives.

A total of 73 movie projects have been approved by the state. Since the incentives went into effect, the film industry has created $100 million in revenue.

In 2007, before incentives, the film industry generated $4 million.

Detroit News Staff Writer Mike Wilkinson contributed to this article. You can reach Louis Aguilar at (313) 222-2760 or laguilar@detnews.com">laguilar@detnews.com.

The Albert Kahn-designed Free Press building has two six-story wings ... (Donna Terek The Detroit News)