Plymouth goes Hollywood

After watching a montage of movie clips and hearing video pep talks from actor Casey Affleck and talk-show host Leeza Gibbons, Plymouth town meeting members voted overwhelmingly last night to give tax breaks and zoning changes to a company seeking to build a major movie studio on a 240-acre golf course along Route 3.

There was little debate as town meeting members swiftly approved zoning changes and a property tax break for Plymouth Rock Studios, the company promising to build "Hollywood East" on the site of the Waverly Oaks Golf Course. Under the plan, the company will get a 75 percent cut on its real estate taxes for the first five years. The Tax Increment Financing package will give the studio a 75 percent tax break on its real estate taxes for the first five years, after which the tax break will gradually decline. Town residents gave a standing ovation after the project was approved through a voice vote.

Officials with Plymouth Rock Studios are promising at least 1,800 new jobs, significant new tax revenues for the town, and a collaboration with local schools. They say they plan to break ground next spring and open in September 2010. Plans call for 14 soundstages, offices, support facilities, and a 300-room hotel.

"Our only intention is to build the greatest studio in the world," said Earl Lestz, master planning director for Plymouth Rock Studios and a former president of Paramount Studio Group.

While town residents and officials were clearly excited about movies shooting in their hometown, there is still a long way to go before the cameras start rolling. The project is seeking millions of dollars for water and sewer improvements under a complex new state economic development program. The studio is also dependent on the continued strength of the state’s film tax credit, which offers production companies a 25 percent credit for nearly every dollar they spend filming movies, commercials, or TV shows in Massachusetts. (I wrote more about the film tax credit in the Spring issue of CommonWealth.)

An economic analysis of the project conducted by consultants for Plymouth said last night’s votes by town meeting members were necessary for Plymouth Rock Studios to begin attracting investors, but they were no guarantee of ultimate success. "For PRS, it is only one step in a lengthy, expensive development process," the consultants said in their report issued this month.

Thom Black, a cofounder of Plymouth Rock Studios, said at last night’s meeting that he was confident the state’s film tax credit would continue to attract movies to Massachusetts, even as other states have begun offering production companies bigger tax credits.

"Massachusetts is a very unusual proposition. People want to come here," Black said. "Nobody wants to go to Michigan or Montana."

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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.

Black was also confident that Plymouth Rock Studios would be able to secure aid from the state under its new Infrastructure Investment Incentive, or I-Cubed. The program authorizes the state to issue $250 million for infrastructure improvements, with priority given to projects in economically distressed areas.

Despite the fact that Plymouth is not econmically distressed, Black said Plymouth Rock Studios is well positioned to receive the state aid. "Our sense of it is that we’re first in line," he said.

Senate President Therese Murray, one of the three most powerful politicians on Beacon Hill, represents Plymouth in the Massachusetts Senate.