Justin L. Levine proposes adding a floor or two to the former television station at 119 East St.
Later this week, ownership of a downtown Sault landmark will be handed over to a Hollywood/Toronto film producer with larger-than-life plans for the 118-year-old CTV building.
Justin L. Levine, who has produced or is currently developing 17 films, will take possession of the former television station at 119 East St. on Friday, August 5, SooToday has learned.
Party-loving and fun-loving, Levine would like to add up to two stories to the existing building, plus a terraced roof terrace (see gallery of 15 images above).
CTV/Bell Media will continue to rent the tower.
Levine’s plan, as he outlined in his pitch, is “to create a one-stop studio full of resources specifically tailored for the film and television industry: film studio, equipment, trailers, vehicles, set decoration and prop houses.” , wardrobe needs, etc.”
He carries out the ambitious project with the help of two film entrepreneurs from Sault and a former star of ABC’s Popular Full house sitcom.
Cafe open to the public
“The plan is simple,” says Levine.
“Office space, studio space, production companies and individual film professionals work together under one roof to create, collaborate and grow.”
All that, plus a cafe open to anyone who wishes to enter, and who knows, maybe some film industry guys will spot them?
“Everything is signed. Everything is nearing completion,” Levine tells SooToday, referring to the closing date this Friday.
Describing his Sault project as a kind of WeWork for entertainment, Levine is interestingly referring to the controversial global co-working giant starring in this year’s Apple TV+ drama series WeCrashed, starring Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto.
“Sort of WeWork,” he says, “but just a very small version of it, in the same store.”
Former home of Bell Canada
“The East Street property is such a unique building with tremendous potential,” said James Caicco, the real estate agent for Century 21 who acted for Levine and his Stardust Pictures Inc. in purchasing the historic building that predates the CJIC where the Sault’s Bell telephone offices were located. TV started operations there in November 1955.
“I think it found the right buyer in Justin,” says Caicco.
“Justin’s intended use of the building is a very good complement to our city’s burgeoning film industry.”
“Justin is very well connected in the film business, but he also has a large real estate portfolio. His real estate experience will only help him in using the property,” says Caicco.
The retail price for the East Street location was not disclosed, but Levine says he bought the location sight-seen and paid “substantially less” than the asking price of $450,000.
“It’s kinda weird to hear I’m buying this at Sault and haven’t been there before. That’s probably the best part of the whole story,” he says. “A Toronto film developer who’s never been here buys a landmark building.”
This unlikely vision unfolded after Levine worked on a 2021 Christmas film. A Christmas letterwith Trish Rainone and Rebeka Herron of 180 Sisterhood Productions of Sault.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a studio,” he explains.
“The opportunity has arisen. You know what? Why not? Especially since we started shooting A Christmas letter up there last year with the [Sisterhood] Girl.”
“I know how they ran it and how things went and how things can go better in the future.”
Levine, Rainone and Herron now have three films in pre-production, and 180 Sisterhood is expected to play a key role in operating Sault’s newest studio facility.
Full house star
Another key player in the East Street operation, Levine says, will be David Lipper, an actor, producer and director best known for his role as Viper on the hit ABC sitcom Full house (1987-1995).
Viper made out with DJ Tanner last season when DJ broke up with her boyfriend Steve.
Lipper reprized his Viper role in fuller housewhich ran from 2016 to 2020.
He has enjoyed a busy career in film and television, including numerous appearances on Levine’s projects.
Lipper won’t move to the Sault, but Levine says he’ll be very involved at 119 East St.
Levine himself was busy too.
The principal place of business for his Stardust Pictures Inc. is located in a mailbox at a UPS store on Pleasant Boulevard in Toronto, according to state business registration.
That Internet Movie Database (IMDB) reveals that the 16-year-old company has produced an average of one film a year, including some comedians Harland Williams, Pauly Shore and Jamie Kennedy; and The Wolfsberga horror film starring Danny Trejo, currently in post-production.
Levine spoke about his early years in the Toronto business on an episode of Bravo’s reality TV show in 2010 The Millionaire Matchmaker.
When this program was being prepared, Levine had freshly arrived in Hollywood, a 40-year-old Canadian with dreams of pursuing his career in the film business.
The popular show was built around Patti Stanger, owner of the Beverly Hills Millionaires Club, who was trying to find compatible dates for the Canadian newcomer.
Trust fund baby?
The Bravo program drew Levine as a “trust fund baby” with a net worth at the time of between $9 million and $12 million.
“How did you get your wealth?” Stanger asked him.
Levine replied: “To be honest, at the age of 25, my birthday present, my father gave me a set of buildings. He said, ‘This is a start in your life and see you later.’
“Do you think you delayed puberty?” asked Stanger.
“No,” Levin said. “But everyone who’s known me for 20 years says, ‘How’s Justin now?’ The same.”
“I’m 30 plus 10 and still acting like 20.”
“My friends would describe me as a little crazy and very funny.”
“I haven’t grown up. I really don’t want it.”
“My goal is to become a Charlie Chaplin”
Levine told Stanger that his family background is in real estate and he does real estate deals to fund his film ventures.
“I’m both a film producer and a real estate entrepreneur.”
“My goal is like the old studio system. To be a Charlie Chaplin.”
“I’m still the kid in me.”
Asked by SooToday what he’s learned in the 12 years since he’s been on the reality TV show, Levin replied that it’s a “fake” show “as everyone knows.”
“It was a challenge and a joke in my past … back when I first came to LA,” he tells SooToday.
“It has less than zero impact on anything with the company, the studio or me.”
Levine registers a new corporate entity for Sault’s production center, known as Stardust Pictures Studios.
“A new facility that anyone can use, anyone can go to and benefit from the tax credits,” he says.
A key selling point will be the studio’s proximity to the United States border, providing maximum convenience for US movie stars.
“I think it will be the closest studio to America. I don’t think Windsor has one. Even if, no closer.”
“My marketing campaign is to just tell American stars they can fly within America… Cross the border or take a horse. Make it fun,” he laughs.
“Fly them across America in a private jet, it would be cheaper. Market it like that in some way so the studio is more accessible to Americans than any other.”
“Spent around a million dollars”
If the price tag for the old TV station is a mystery, so is the cost of the renovations featured in its architectural renderings and the number of jobs it plans to create in exchange for government tax support.
“Who knows what an editing suite will cost? $300,000 just for an editing suite? I don’t know,” he tells SooToday.
“Right now I’m putting up a facade and making it shine. Put on lights and make them shine.”
“But eventually… it’s going to be a serious building.”
“When it’s done, they’re talking seven figures of spending to get this rendering up and running. It’s at least a million dollars to get this rendering to work.”
“Give or take the math, if you want to print a number, you can just say you’re spending about a million dollars. I’m not going to say what that includes or excludes, I’m just saying that’s the number.”
“To do what I’m going to do, it would normally cost a lot more money in Toronto.”
Help the city grow
But Levine wants to make us proud.
“I just want to make this thing a stunning downtown building. Almost a flagship.”
“I want to be part of the community and help the community grow, help the city grow.”
Clues to Levine’s old-school studio system, Chaplinesque aspirations can be found in the description of a proposed titled film he co-wrote steal Hollywood:
“In a bid for validation, the third richest man alive decides to produce the highest-priced epic film in history at a $1 billion budget, with the largest A-list cast ever assembled.”