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Plymouth

Plymouth studio to tee off slowly

Golf course is open, will share space

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / March 25, 2010

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The company that wants to turn Plymouth’s picturesque Waverly Oaks Golf Club into a mega film production studio has made an arrangement with the club owner to allow golf and movie-making to coexist, at least for the foreseeable future.

Plymouth Rock Studios’ film production facility was initially expected to take over the entire 240-acre property, supplanting its 27 holes. The $550 million studio plan called for 14 sound stages, some back lots, editing and production facilities, a large amenities village with stores and a hotel, and an educational and training campus.

But a stumble by the development team late last year, when a $500 million investment arrangement fell through, has resulted in a more modest, phased-in approach priced at about $250 million, which will start with some sound stages and office space. Full build-out now appears to be years away.

“Their plan now is to build enough to meet their pre-leasing commitments,’’ said Waverly Oaks owner Mark Ridder. “Phase I of the studio will be built where our executive nine-hole course is now located. Once the deal happens and they buy the property, I will lease back the 18-hole championship course and clubhouse. How long the course stays open will depend on the success of Phase I.’’

The first phase of the studio complex will sit on about 40 acres.

After significant layoffs last winter, the core team of studio executives left their spacious headquarters in Cordage Park and moved to temporary offices in the Waverly clubhouse. Plymouth Rock Studios spokesman Kevin O’Reilly said some progress has been made toward nailing down cash for the venture, but declined further comment on whether any significant financial backing has been secured.

Meanwhile, the company may catch one lucky break. The town is on the short list for more than $21 million in low interest loans from the state’s Clean Water Revolving Fund, which would cover the cost of connecting Plymouth South’s middle and high school to the municipal sewer treatment plant in Camelot Park. The Waverly Oaks site is right next door, and the studio is looking to save on startup costs.

A recent attempt by some lawmakers to cap the film production tax credits, a major draw for moviemakers in Massachusetts in the last few years, had been troublesome for those seeking money to build film-making facilities. But the Legislature’s Revenue Committee on March 11 rejected a bill that would have curtailed the benefits, helping to allay concerns. Lawmakers have yet to consider Governor Deval Patrick’s recommendation to cap annual tax credits at $50 million.

“There had definitely been questions from potential lenders about what was happening, but their comfort level has gone up in the last month,’’ O’Reilly said.

The change of plans for Waverly Oaks was just fine with Boston-area golfers, including a foursome from the flooded Merrimack Valley last Friday. It was their first outing of the season, said Tewksbury resident Bob Ryan. “The course is in great shape.’’

While there are a half-dozen other public golf courses in the 120-square-mile area that comprises America’s Hometown, Tyngsborough resident Dan Durkin said Waverly is unique. “Every hole is different,’’ he said.

Mike Mueller, a resident of The Pinehills, was one of the last golfers to enjoy a round at Waverly Oaks last fall, thinking that might have been his final one there. “It’s a bonus that the course is open,’’ he said.

But while he and golf buddy Dave Pender were happy to be teeing off again at Waverly, the pair said they were also anxious for the studio project to get underway. “I really hope the studio comes in,’’ Mueller said. “It’s exciting.’’

Ridder said Waverly’s amenities, including its popular function rooms, will continue to be open for the foreseeable future. “It’s business as usual,’’ he said.