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Astoria TV warehouse waits for new show

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The Astoria warehouse that only months ago was alive with filming of the television drama “100 Centre Street” now sits quiet, its soundproofed interior as dark and cool as a buried crypt.

But when the lights come up, the space is no longer a warehouse but a courtroom and an apartment, a judge’s chambers and a jail. Although “100 Centre Street” has been canceled and production ceased at the Astoria site back in December, the sets have been left relatively intact, like the show’s abandoned skeleton waiting to be unearthed.

That won’t happen until landlord Dimitri Vissas, the owner of the nearby Parmatile store, finds his next tenant, in which case the sets will likely be removed. But a flier that has been distributed among film and television producers advertises the “ready to film standing sets on premises” — in which case the skeleton may be reincarnated after all.

Numerous producers have already stepped through the space with an interest in leasing it, and the landlord is banking on the memory of “100 Centre Street” turning into a major selling point, leftover sets and all.

“It would be more appealing to see how previous people used the whole space,” said Costas Vissas, Dimitri’s nephew and longtime business associate, as he stepped through the sets on a recent tour.

All signs point to a bright future in television and film production for Dimitri Vissas, a man who had never dreamed of owning a studio when he was approached by the producers of “100 Centre Street” more than a year ago.

The first season of the show, which was created for A&E by legendary film director Sidney Lumet, had been filmed at the nearby Kaufman Astoria Studios, a major production facility on 35th Avenue that has a history dating back to 1920. But the show’s producers sought to create an independent studio to cut back on costs, and they happened upon Vissas’s spacious but aged warehouse in Astoria.

“It was a whole new experience for us,” Costas Vissas said. “The bottom line is, we got out of the whole deal with being paid our rent on time and with a beautiful studio.”

The very location may seem an unlikely spot for a studio, nestled only about a block from the East River in the neighborhood known as the Two Coves, which juts into the water like a round pocket. The Astoria Houses cover most of the small peninsula, but the studio occupies a lot sandwiched between a riverside baseball field and a row of industrial buildings.

The studio was created out of yet another old industrial building that had sat for more than a decade without a permanent tenant. It had previously housed a coffee bean factory before Vissas purchased it in the 1980s, and it has been rented out for brief spurts since then.

“We took a building that was an abandoned building with holes in the roof, holes in the wall, structurally not in good condition, and turned it into a very viable production facility,” said Steve Rose, a producer for the show.

The transformation from warehouse to television production studio required major improvements, like leveling the floors to allow the cameras to move smoothly, insulating the walls and rebuilding the roof. A suite of production offices and dressing rooms sits in the back of the building.

“For that type of studio, those improvements had to be made,” Dimitri Vissas said. “For a regular warehouse like we had before, it was not necessary.”

In the end, “100 Centre Street” only stayed in the Astoria warehouse for less than a year, having been canceled by A&E after 18 episodes had been shot at its new home.

But the investment the producers made in Vissas’s building will likely have a more enduring impact for both the neighborhood and the city. The producers who have already viewed the space were also considering filming their productions in Toronto, one of New York’s most prominent competitors in the movie industry. But Vissas said chances are the studio will secure its next tenant within a month.

‘I don’t know what kind, if it’s going to be a movie or something else,” he said, “but they would prefer our space instead of going to any other place.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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