Devens studio proposal delights officials

Local developer plans film complex

By Scott Van Voorhis
Globe Correspondent / August 4, 2011

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A proposal for a Hollywood-style movie studio at the Devens complex is wowing state and local officials eager to bring new jobs to the former military base in the wake of the Evergreen Solar fiasco.

The Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, which owns the old base, is in talks to sell a prime tract of land - and provide millions of tax incentives - to a local developer with plans for setting up a studio.

And the $104 million proposal, with the potential to turn Devens into the headquarters of the Massachusetts film industry, has won an early endorsement from officials in the communities that share the former Army property.

Ayer Selectman James Fay said he is encouraged by the proposed studio project, which would provide facilities for the growing number of Hollywood productions shooting in Massachusetts.

Fay said he is cautious about the use of tax incentives to lure companies after the Evergreen debacle, in which the Marlborough-based solar-panel manufacturer used the breaks to build a factory at Devens, only to shut it down this winter, taking with it more than 800 jobs. However, he also said the $5 million sum is relatively modest compared with the $58 million package doled out to the now-struggling Evergreen.

“I have said all along Devens should focus on manufacturing,’’ Fay said, adding the studio complex, in his view, would be “manufacturing films.’’

MJM Development LLC, which is based in Andover, hopes to win approval from MassDevelopment this year to begin construction on the first phase of a 600,000-square-foot studio complex on vacant land on Jackson Road, across from the Bristol-Myers Squibb plant.

The developer plans to build the project over 10 years, with an initial $30 million phase to feature four 18,000-square-foot sound stages suitable for rental to everything from big-budget movie productions to commercials. The complex would have a permanent staff of around 40, with hundreds of other positions working out of the studios at any one time, based on the various movies, TV shows, and other productions being filmed there, according to MJM.

The developer is also exploring the potential for converting what was once officer housing at nearby Sherman Square into dorms for a film school, though there are no pending plans to buy the site, said Michael Meyers, MJM’s managing partner.

“It makes a very good opportunity for the region,’’ Fay said.

Others are also throwing their support behind the studio proposal.

Tom Kinch of the Devens Citizens Advisory Committee gave it a thumbs-up. “What this area needs are some jobs that absorb the creativity that New England has, especially Boston,’’ Kinch said.