Devens goes Hollywood

Local investors plan to build a $30m sound-stage complex catering to TV and movie productions

A group of Massachusetts investors unveiled plans on Tuesday to build a $30 million sound-stage complex in Devens, a bit of Hollywood-style infrastructure that is expected to help plug a hole in the state’s fledgling movie and television production business.

At a ground-breaking ceremony on the parade grounds of the old military base, officials from New England Studios at Devens LLC said the Tewksbury company plans to build four 18,000-square-foot sound stages along with production support offices and other facilities. The company expects to employ 20 to 30 people full-time at the facility.

Movie and TV production companies, drawn to Massachusetts by the state’s film tax credit, are expected to lease the facilities for inside shooting. Currently, those companies have to find and often retrofit space in empty warehouses. Chris Byers, director of operations for New England Studios, said having fully equipped sound stages available for lease will allow production companies to avoid spending six to 10 weeks retrofitting their own sound stages.

New England Studios will be dependent on the state’s film tax credit to attract its customers to Massachusetts, but officials say the company itself won’t benefit from the credit. The company is financing the studio construction itself and has purchased a 10-acre parcel of land at Devens for $575,000. Officials with Mass Development, the state authority that owns and operates Devens, said the studio will receive a roughly 20 percent break on its property taxes as long it meets its job targets.

Many other companies have announced plans to build sound stages in Plymouth, South Weymouth, South Boston, and elsewhere, but all of them have fallen by the wayside. New England Studios is the first to begin construction. It plans to be open for business next summer.

“Nobody else has been able to pull this off,” said Mike Myers, director of real estate development for New England Studios and the head of MJM Development. “That’s a good thing for us.”

Byers is the only official at New England Studios with movie-making experience. Originally from Lowell, Byers said he has spent 28 years in Los Angeles, doing every job from stunt man to executive producer. He said he has spent the last six years laying the groundwork for the Massachusetts sound stage project. He originally planned to open a smaller facility in Lowell, but a couple years ago, at the urging of an investor, he decided to construct a bigger facility and ended up at Devens.

“I wouldn’t have spent six years of my life doing this if I wasn’t positive it was going to work,” he said under a tent on the parade grounds where lunch was served to those attending the ground-breaking.

Myers said the New England Studios investor group is small, but he and Byers declined to name the other investors. The company’s corporate filings list no one as officers or directors. Andrea Batchelder, a Lowell attorney, is listed as the company agent.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

One big concern is whether a sound stage in Devens will be convenient enough for movie production companies that often shoot in the Greater Boston area. Myers said movie stars will continue to stay in Boston’s exclusive hotels, but getting to and from Devens from Boston won’t be a problem. He noted Devens is 29 miles from Cambridge and a fairly quick drive compared to what people in Los Angeles are accustomed to. “In LA, it takes them 45 minutes to travel six miles,” he said.

Lisa Strout, director of the Massachusetts Film Office, said the sound stages will finally give the state what it needs to develop a sustainable movie industry. With a 25 percent film tax credit, an experienced workforce, and diverse shooting locations, Strout said Massachusetts already ranks as one of the top four or five locations to shoot films. “Now, with this infrastructure, we move up,” she said.