By Hiroko Sato
DEVENS — The $106 million project to construct a Hollywood-style movie studio in the heart of this former Army post community is moving forward as the developer is expected to apply for a building permit in about a week.
Since the June 26 groundbreaking at the future home of New England Studios off Jackson Road, MJM Development LLC of Andover has made significant progress in preparing the site for construction, taking down hillsides, according to Peter Lowitt, executive director of Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC). DEC is the permitting authority for Devens.
Christopher Byers, who will head the studio, could not be reached for comment. Lowitt said Thursday, however, that MJM Development, the studio developer working in partnership with Byers, is expected to submit an application for a building permit for the complex in the next week or so. MJM Development had received a unified permit — which is a site-plan approval — for the project from Devens Enterprise Commission. MJM Development began site-preparation work on June 26 — 10 days before the unified permit expiration date of July 6 — while continuing to work with the Devens Enterprise Commission’s building inspector toward the building-permit application.
The permits are for the first phase of the project only. This phase involves construction of two buildings on 15 acres, one of which will include four 18,000-square-foot soundstages. The engineering and construction is projected to cost $21 million and is expected to generate 100 to 150 construction jobs.
The studio complex is geared toward production of not only films but also TV series, commercials and documentaries. Once built, the space will be rented to production companies, each of which would typically employ about 110 full-time workers during production, according to the unified permit application. New England Studios itself will likely have about 30 full-time employees once the facility opens.
When fully developed, the studio campus would encompass 28 acres and have multiple buildings totaling 600,000 square feet, generating about 800 full-time jobs, according to the permit application.
New England Studios will be the first permanent feature film production studio in Massachusetts. While the studio is expected to open for business in about a year, it has not signed contracts with any party for studio space rental, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal published Wednesday. In the story, Byers, a Lowell native with 28 years of experience in movie production, was quoted saying he has been “in discussions with all of the majors, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, a unit of Sony Corp.” Byers also noted, according to the article, that his high school friends helped fund the $106 million studio project.
MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state economic development agency that sold the land to New England Studios, announced last August $5 million in tax-increment financing for the project, which will cut taxes for the studio complex over 20 years.