Court decisions in Michigan allow big box retailers and other businesses in our state to be valued as if they are out of business. As a result, their taxable values are half to even one third of comparable stores in neighboring states. This has reduced tax revenue for local units of government in Michigan by over 200 million dollars with millions more hanging in the balance as the Senate reconvenes in September.
Boxed In was produced by Emmy Award winning producer and NMU professor Dwight Brady along with 14 students from Northern Michigan University. What started out as a class project quickly developed into a much larger story that took Dr. Brady and his students from Marquette, to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Grand Blanc and many other stops along the way. They interviewed fifteen different sources including Representative, David Maturen (Michigan’s 63rd District). Maturen is the author of a bill that will require the Tax Tribunal to follow traditional methods of assessing property. It passed 97-11 in the House on June 8, but the bill is expected to face greater opposition in the Senate this fall. Brady and his students also interviewed the current Chair of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, Steven Lasher and Former Chief Judge, Jack Van Coevering to get differing perspectives on the issue.
Two students, Michael Williams and Katlyn Fleis set up “Go Fund Me” pages to raise their own support for travel expenses to Lansing, and Dr. Brady secured a five-hundred dollar Service Learning Grant from Northern Michigan University to pay for recording and storage media and a portion of travel expenses. The result is a professionally produced documentary that far surpasses its modest production budget. However, the educational value of the process according to NMU student AnnMarie Kent (pictured above) was “priceless.”
You can read the official press release below.
A Michigan property tax loophole that has caused local governments to lose millions in tax revenue is explored in “Boxed In,” a new video documentary about the Dark Store issue by Northern Michigan University Professor Dwight Brady.
“Boxed In” had its Marquette community premiere Wednesday August 24, at 7 pm before a standing room only crowd at Community Room of the Peter White Public Library. Brady will be on hand August 31, for the premiere in Escanaba at 7 pm in the Besse Theater at Bay College.
WNMU Public TV 13 will present the broadcast premiere of “Boxed In” on Thursday, September 1 at 8 pm. The documentary will be followed by a special edition of WNMU’s “Media Meet” public affairs program where guests will update and discuss the Dark Store issue with host Bill Hart. Public TV 13 will also present an encore airing of “Boxed In – A Media Meet Special Report” on Friday, September 2 at Noon.
Tax attorneys representing large corporate retailers introduced the Dark Store theory to Michigan courts in 2010. Since then, big box retailers and other businesses in Michigan have been able to reduce their taxes to half or even one third of commonly accepted values in other states. The theory was originally based on the idea that big box stores were built to suit and not meant to be sold or leased. Therefore, the structure, “the big box,” should be valued as if the store was closed or out of business. The Dark Store theory would later be extended to manufacturing and even personal real estate. The result has been far lower tax revenues for local units of government in Michigan that now face raising taxes on citizens or cutting services.
“Boxed In” was produced by Emmy Award-winning producer Dwight Brady along with 14 students from Northern Michigan University. “This started out as a class project in my Advanced Multimedia Journalism class, but it quickly developed into a much larger story,” said Brady.
With help from a five-hundred dollar Service Learning Grant from NMU, Dr. Brady and his students shot footage and interviews in Marquette, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Grand Blanc and other stops along the way. They interviewed fifteen different sources including Representative David Maturen from Michigan’s 63rd District in Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties. Maturen is the author of a bill that will require the Michigan Tax Tribunal to follow traditional methods of assessing property. It passed 97-11 in the House in June but the bill is expected to face greater opposition in the Senate this fall.
To get differing perspectives on the issue, Brady and his students also interviewed the current Chair of the Michigan Tax Tribunal Steven Lasher, and Former Chief Judge Jack Van Coevering.
AnnMarie Kent was one of several NMU students who made the trip downstate to work on the documentary in early May. “This project gave me the opportunity to do journalistic work inside and around the state Capitol. I was able to meet and interview state representatives and film a session of the House of Representatives. The education I received was priceless,” said Kent.
Two other NMU students, Michael Williams and Katlyn Fleis also helped professor Brady acquire footage downstate, and they raised their own support for travel by creating “Go Fund Me” pages. “Michael and Katlyn were highly motivated, and they did a great job working independently with a second camera which doubled our ability to shoot interviews and footage,” said Brady.
The result of their combined efforts is an informative, well-produced documentary that far surpasses its modest production budget. The trailer for “Boxed In” can be viewed at www.boxedin.news. The entire program, along with the “Media Meet” follow-up, will be available to view online at wnmuvideo.nmu.edu, and in the PBS mobile and connected device apps beginning the week of August 29.
Professor Brady edited and narrated the entire documentary in a spare bedroom at his home this summer. He estimates he and his students logged over 300 hours researching, writing, shooting and editing “Boxed In.” He produced the documentary with no additional compensation. “This was done as a service learning project with my students, and I consider this our contribution to the community,” said Brady.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t derive some enjoyment from creating a work like this. It is just too tedious and time consuming if you don’t really like it. Some people make handcrafted furniture with saws and lathes; I carefully construct documentaries using a camera and a computer,” said Brady. Professor Brady teaches multimedia journalism and media law in the Department of Communication and Performance Studies at NMU.