Film studio returns grant

A Chicago-based film studio has returned an eyebrow-raising $10 million grant after Gov. Rauner demanded its return. A Senate Republican lawmaker has requested the Attorney General look into the matter.

A March 21 report by the Chicago Sun-Times showed that Cinespace Chicago Film Studios was awarded the $10 million grant by Gov. Quinn in December 2014 for the stated purpose of buying industrial land around its west-side studio facility where TV shows and movies are produced.

But the article also pointed out that the properties may not actually be for sale, and identified several other potential issues:

Quinn’s administration gave Cinespace the $10 million without any appraisals to justify the projected purchase prices listed by the studio’s owners.

The former governor’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity had nothing to show that Cinespace had pending contracts to buy any of the properties or had been in negotiations to buy them.

The state agency gave Cinespace the ability to buy just about any land it wants, allowing it to “substitute properties . . . in the event the applicant is unable to successfully negotiate the purchase of the listed properties.” Cinespace would need the state’s permission to do so. It has not asked for that.

The grant went out even though the studio’s owners had trouble complying with reporting requirements on another grant the studio had gotten under Quinn. In 2012, the state sent Cinespace four “not in compliance” letters. The state then suspended the $1.3 million construction grant because the studio hadn’t turned in “project status reports” on time — an issue that wasn’t resolved until March 2014, records show. Even as the Quinn administration was sending those letters, the state gave the studio three other grants totaling $16 million.

After the story broke, Gov. Rauner ordered Cinespace to return the grant to the state, which the studio did, with interest.

State Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) noted that the large grant was awarded despite the state’s multi-billion dollar backlog of bills and unbalanced budget. Bivins said the former Governor’s action demonstrated an “utter disregard for the resources provided by Illinois taxpayers.”

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