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Cinespace sold to buyout firm in deal reportedly worth $1 billion

A former Netflix executive will become a top official at the South Side studio home to “Chicago Fire” and other TV and film productions.

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, 2621 W. 15th Pl.
Cinespace Chicago Film Studio campus in North Lawndale. The studio was acquired by TPG Real Estate in a deal announced Friday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cinespace, the studio that is home to Chicago-based film and TV productions including “Chicago Fire,” has been sold to the real estate arm of TPG, a buyout firm based in Texas and California, the two companies announced Friday.

The deal, valued at $1 billion according to Crain’s Chicago Business, means the Pissios family of Chicago will no longer control the studio space they founded in 2011 with the aid of millions of dollars in state grants. Terms of the deal, and the purchase price, were not mentioned in the release.

The deal also involves studio space owned by Cinespace in Toronto. TPG Real Estate has a portfolio of some $5 billion in properties under management, according to the company website.

A press release from TPG says former Netflix executive Eoin Egan will take over as a co-managing partner and COO. Keith Gee, of LifeStorage, will become another co-managing partner and CFO. The release does not mention any role for Cinespace President and CEO Alex Pissios, whose run as the head of Cinespace’s Chicago operation has seen the company expand into the city’s premier studio space and purportedly the largest film campus east of California.

The statement also includes praise from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“Chicago has a compelling, beautiful cityscape with so much potential for film productions of all mediums and sizes,” Lightfoot said. “I am thrilled to see this acquisition expand our capability for content creation and look forward to the jobs and production it will bring to our region.”

As a Cinespace executive, Pissios also wore a wire on former Teamsters boss John Coli Sr., who pleaded guilty to extorting more than $300,000 from the company to maintain labor peace at the studio. Pissios’ cooperation earned him a non-prosecution deal with federal prosecutors on fraud charges tied to his 2011 personal bankruptcy.

Cinespace announced in April plans to add 16 sound stages to its campus on the city’s Southwest Side, with Pissios at the time telling Crain’s that the studio had to turn away projects, and that the expansion would add some 1,200 jobs in the local film industry.

TPG is bullish on the Chicago film scene as well.

“Consumer appetite for original content is a growing secular tend that has accelerated through the pandemic, leading to a dramatic increase in the demand to produce new films and television, and in turn, a surge in the need for studio space,” TPG co-head of Real Estate Avi Banyasz said in the statement.

State grants heavily financed Cinespace’s expansion into Chicago under Pissios’ uncle, Nick Mirkopoulos, who founded Cinespace in Toronto in the 1980s. Mirkopoulos and Pissios, with help from Coli and Teamsters lobbyists, were able to secure millions in state funds to acquire the 60-acre site of the former Ryerson Steel and convert it into studio space.

During the waning days of Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration in 2016, Cinespace sought a $15 million state grant to buy real estate to expand its footprint, later reducing the request to $10 million.

Upon taking office, Quinn’s Republican successor Bruce Rauner, demanded Cinespace return the grant money following a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that showed that the parcels Cinespace had intended to buy were not for sale.

Despite his legal woes and the attention from Coli’s indictment, Pissios has remained a player in Chicago real estate. Last year, he secured $21 million in financing for the first phase of a $76 million project to develop property along Ogden Avenue with the CHA and other partners, a proposal Pissios filed while also negotiating his deal with federal prosecutors.

Contributing: Tim Novak