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Allan

WTVS to leave Detroit for Wixom

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They were complaining because they couldn't find a high profile spot in the city. After being offered quite possibly the spot with the highest profile in the entire city c(the monroe block), they have decided to move way out to Wixom. You Can't get any more high profile than that. :rolleyes:

TOM WALSH: WTVS to leave Detroit for Wixom

Public TV outlet finds studio-ready alternative

October 13, 2004

BY TOM WALSH

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Public television station WTVS (Channel 56) has decided to move its headquarters from Detroit to suburban Wixom as part of an ambitious $22-million campaign to upgrade its dated technology and expand its local programming.

The WTVS board of trustees voted Monday afternoon to proceed with a purchase offer for Clover Technologies' 6-year-old office-warehouse building on 12 acres along I-96 west of the Ford-Wixom auto assembly plant in Oakland County. The station and its 85 employees are now tucked away in two old buildings on Second Avenue north of the Fisher Building in Detroit's New Center. WTVS has been there since the early 1970s.

Why leave Detroit for the suburbs?

It's mostly a matter of dollars and cents, WTVS President and General Manager Steve Antoniotti told me Tuesday.

"Without question, all else being equal, we would have preferred to stay in the city," he said. "But this is a good bargain and a unique opportunity."

Because the Wixom building is already equipped with fiber-optic cable and electronic control rooms, the cost of transforming it into modern digital TV station will be about $6 million less than building a station from scratch in Detroit, he said.

The deal isn't officially done yet: A formal appraisal is needed before a mortgage is granted. But a preliminary agreement on price and financing has been struck.

Antoniotti said he and WTVS's real estate consultants examined about two dozen other potential sites, mostly in Detroit, during the six months since I first wrote that the station was considering a move to the suburbs.

"George Jackson and Walt Watkins were great," Antoniotti said, referring to the president of Detroit Economic Growth Corp. and the city's chief development officer, who presented WTVS with a variety of options.

But in every case a new building would have required WTVS to boost its capital campaign fund-raising target to $28 million or $30 million, Antoniotti said.

Another issue for nonprofit WTVS is collateral. The station can take out a mortgage in Wixom, with a modern existing building as collateral for the loan. But to finance a new building, a capital campaign would be needed first.

Jackson, the DEGC president, said he was disappointed in the decision to leave Detroit. While he understands the station's financial reasoning, he said he felt the outcome was preordained and that discussions of potential sites in Detroit were held mainly to appease WTVS trustees who wanted the station to stay in the city. Only one major local TV station, WDIV-TV (Channel 4), will remain based in the city when WTVS leaves.

There is certainly some downside to relocating, including the possible loss of grants from foundations that fund projects primarily in Detroit. For example, David Egner, president of the Hudson-Webber Foundation, said that group probably would not contribute to the WTVS capital campaign because of the move to Wixom.

WTVS trustee Christopher Tennyson, however, said he was convinced "there wasn't any kind of charade" involved in the site decision. "The board was very specific," he said, "that it would have to be a very compelling deal to move the headquarters out of Detroit. And that's what it is."

Antoniotti said WTVS will continue to have a major presence in Detroit by virtue of its 10-year contract with Detroit Public Schools to manage the new TV production center being built near the new performing arts high school, scheduled to open next year behind the Max M. Fisher Music Center on Woodward Avenue. Twenty or 25 WTVS employees will be based at the Detroit school when the TV center opens.

Detroit, he added, will be a major focus of the vision driving the $22-million capital campaign. "We need to be more than just a TV channel in today's universe of 100 other TV channels. We're doing more local programming, and a lot of it is focused on helping other local institutions reach out and grow."

He cited local WTVS programs such as "In the Frame: Exploring the DIA," produced in tandem with the Detroit Institute of Arts, and "Leaders on Leadership," a show on business leaders in partnership with Wayne State University's business school. Future local programs will include a music show in conjunction with the Detroit Symphony and a cooking show involving Schoolcraft College's culinary program.

Two years ago, WTVS aired only one locally produced program, "American Black Journal." Now there are seven, he said, and by next year there will be at least 10.

"To support all of this we need a new facility," Antoniotti said, including digital production gear.

Because Clover Technologies was a TV and data transmission firm, the Wixom building was built with fiber-optic cable and the electronic infrastructure needed by a modern TV station. WTVS will convert the Clover warehouse into TV studio space, but the 40,000 square feet of office space will need little changing. Even the furniture and fixtures will be part of the purchase.

The station plans to spend about $14 million to buy the property and upgrade it. The remaining $8 million of the $22-million campaign will be used to buy a mobile production truck and invest in all of that local programming.

Some WTVS staff can move in almost immediately, Antoniotti said. Conversion of the warehouse into new studios may take a couple of years, but that's half the time building a new station would have taken.

What's to become of the old New Center digs?

Hard to say. The main red brick building has a historic feel to it, Antoniotti said. But it also has single-pane windows that let in such a cold draft during winter that Antoniotti has kept what he called his "Mr. Rogers sweater" handy in his office closet.

Contact TOM WALSH at 313-223-4430 or [email protected]

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