A lifelong resident of Chicago, Alex Pissios grew up the son of first-generation Greek immigrants. After graduating high school, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a special education teacher.
Pissios enrolled at Northeastern Illinois University to study English literature and soon found himself student teaching. However, his career trajectory changed dramatically when an uncle offered him much more than a teacher’s salary to manage a fur and leather store.
But by 2002, Pissios had discovered a passion for property development. He enjoyed a tremendous amount of initial success in the real estate sector — until the housing bubble burst and subsequent economic recession of the late 2000s put an abrupt end to this career. Even worse, he was left financially bankrupt and psychologically devastated.
His property developments on Chicago’s north and west sides began to fail one by one. Ultimately, he owed creditors more than $13 million when he was just 35 years of age.
As old colleagues and business associates turned their backs on him, Pissios had little professional recourse and no opportunities on the horizon. His wife ultimately had to return to work as a dental hygienist while he stayed at home to take care of their children.
A Visit With ‘Uncle Nick’
Alex Pissios never could have anticipated the strange set of circumstances that finally turned his life around. It began with a wedding invitation from a cousin in Toronto. It was a wedding that Pissios and his wife would have been unable to attend if the cousin didn’t offer to cover the cost of a rental car.
While celebrating at the reception, Alex Pissios found himself chatting with several distant family members, many of whom he hadn’t seen in years. One of these relatives was a first cousin twice removed named Nick Mirkopoulos. Alex Pissios had always known him as “Uncle Nick.”
“When Uncle Nick saw me at the wedding, he kind of jabbed me,” says Pissios. “He’d say, ‘How’s the real estate business? Making a lot of money?’” It turned out that this teasing question was the opening line to a new career in the entertainment industry.
Nick Mirkopoulos grew up in Greece before immigrating to Toronto in 1968. In partnership with his brothers, he ran a successful local electric contracting business for well over two decades. Then, in 1990, he embarked on a bold, new venture with the launch of Cinespace Film Studios. Under his leadership, Cinespace quickly became one of the biggest production studio complexes in Canada.
There’s no doubt that Nick Mirkopoulos was genuinely interested in helping a relative in need. After all, he traveled to Chicago to walk into a bankruptcy office and pay $25,000 of Alex Pissios’s filing costs out of his own pocket. However, Mirkopoulos had ulterior business motives, recognizing that a partnership with. Pissios could ultimately benefit them both.
More than happy with the success Cinespace enjoyed in Toronto, Mirkopoulos was eager to expand into the United States. Furthermore, he thought that his distant relative’s home city of Chicago would provide the ideal location.
Cinespace Explodes in Chicago
Mirkopoulos introduced the idea of Cinespace Chicago to Pissios over a cup of coffee at a Greek restaurant on downtown Chicago’s South Halsted Street. By the end of this meeting, Pissios had agreed to begin looking for a building that spanned at least 100,000 square feet and had the potential to house at least three production studio soundstages.
Working together, Alex Pissios and Nick Mirkopoulos opened Cinespace Chicago Film Studios in the city’s Near West Side neighborhood in 2011. Like its sister studio facility in Toronto, Cinespace Chicago expanded rapidly, ultimately becoming a sprawling, multibuilding complex covering roughly 52 acres. The largest film studio company in North America, it helped earn Chicago the nickname “Hollywood of the Midwest.”
Today, Cinespace Chicago features 31 soundstages at its original location at the former Ryerson Steel complex in the North Lawndale neighborhood as well as three additional soundstages in the Little Village neighborhood. These facilities have provided the production sites for a broad range of popular television series including Chicago Fire, Fargo, and Empire.
Charity Begins at Home
True to his convictions, Alex Pissios never forgot what it was like to be down and out with no prospects. Although his life situation improved by leaps and bounds after opening Cinespace Chicago, hundreds of thousands of Chicago residents were still struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis.
This realization drove Alex Pissios to team up with his brothers Dean and Nick to create the CineCares Foundation. Dedicated to the man they called “Uncle Nick,” CineCares honors Nick Mirkopoulos’ generous spirit by giving low-income Chicago residents the funds that they need to pay for an education in the fields of film and television.
Through its Mirkopoulos Apprenticeship Program, CineCares partners with community organizations to give young Chicagoans the training needed to contribute to productions at one of Cinespace Chicago studio complexes. Alex Pissios’ work with CineCares, the Mirkopoulos Apprenticeship Program, and other philanthropic organizations have earned him a number of community awards and accolades. However, he views his charity work as a simple way to “pay it forward” for the serendipitous opportunity that his Uncle Nick gave him roughly 15 years ago.
In 2021, TPG Real Estate Partners sold for a reported $1 billion, and Pissios purchased an office building in Fulton Market for $11 million. There, he plans to focus on more charitable endeavors. He told Crain’s, “My long-term vision is to build a family office and hire some smart people to help me manage it. I really love the Fulton Market area. I’m excited about being in that neighborhood.”