The premiere for “Boxed In,” a new television documentary about the Dark Store issue in Michigan, will be held Wednesday August 24, at 7 pm in the Community Room of the Peter White Public Library. The half-hour documentary will be shown along with a brief presentation from members of Marquette County Citizens for a Fair Share with a reception to follow. The broadcast premiere will take place on September 1, at 8 pm on WNMU-TV in a program called, “Boxed In—A Media Meet Special Report.” It will be broadcast again 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 and NMU Professor Dwight Brady along with 14 students from Northern Michigan University. “This started out as a 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 (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 8th, 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.
AnnMarie Kent was one of several 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, and 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 a well-produced documentary that far surpasses its modest production budget.