Hollywood East? Part 1: Proposed film studio in Plymouth has hurdles to clear

Tamara Race

It is home to a number of endangered species and boasts one of the largest pine barrens in the world. There is no water or sewer service, no electricity, and only one road in and out.

But film industry veterans see the 1,000 wooded acres in the South Plymouth middle-of-nowhere as the perfect spot for Plymouth Rock Studios, a 1 million-square-foot, $300 million film studio complex.

Is it just a Hollywood dream? Or will the promise of as many as 2,000 new jobs and economic development be enough to overcome a list of make-or-break requirements that include the construction of a highway access ramp off Route 25?

David Kirkpatrick, a co-founder of Project Julia LLC, the company formed to build Plymouth Rock Studios, said he wants to be open for business in two years.

“If it’s going to be 10 years, we’re not going to be here. We’d like to keep it on the fast track,” he said.

So far, state and local officials appear willing to do that.

“There’s a lot of excitement about this project,” said Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth.

She said the state has money to help pay for road work such as the Route 25 highway access ramp, and the studio would rank high on the priority list.

“We need to spend the money where we’ll get the biggest bang for the buck and this would be a pretty good bang,” she said.

She said the state could also expedite environmental approval by having multiple agencies review the project at the same time.

Doing the legwork

Kirkpatrick and a team of consultants and company executives say they have been fast-tracking things on their end as well.

They have already spent $1.2 million on planning and design.

Company heads have been meeting with neighbors and a town-appointed citizens advisory group, making small changes in the plan to accommodate neighborhood concerns.

“Those who look at things as impossible are the ones who never get to do the impossible,” Kirkpatrick said.

Project Julia LLC wants to build in Massachusetts to cash in on the 25 percent tax credit approved by the Legislature to lure filmmakers here.

The company is not alone. The state has seen more than $175 million in film production work since the tax credit first took effect in January 2006. Much of that film work occurred after the tax credit package was enhanced last summer.

Rural region a draw

In addition to the project in Plymouth, a smaller-scale film studio is proposed at the old South Weymouth Naval Air Station property. In Quincy, there is a proposal to launch a Quincy Film Bureau, a service to help directors find local filming locations.

South Plymouth may be considered too rural by some for such a large operation, but Kirkpatrick said the rural location is one of the attractive things about the property.

“What is so unique about the land is that it is so natural,” Kirkpatrick said, pledging to retain the undeveloped charm of the site. “Who wouldn’t want to come and work in such a quiet and undisturbed area.” Besides, he said, Plymouth is an identifiable name in most of the country.

He said the company would need to develop only about 200 of the 1,000 acres of land. It would want to purchase the entire parcel, however, to control any future development.

There are concerns about the project.

Planning board member Lawrence Rosenblum said he fears that highway access off Route 25 for the film studio will prompt immediate land speculation and rampant growth for which the town is unprepared.

One of the biggest hurdles for the project will be winning approval of zoning changes and sale of the land from Plymouth town meeting voters.

William Abbott, chairman of the town’s committee of precinct chairs, said members like the studio idea, but need answers to questions about traffic and road improvements – and who will pay for them – before lending support to the project.

“We all felt this project was extremely important not just to the immediate Plymouth neighborhood, but to the town as a whole,” he said.

Kirkpatrick said he hopes that a special town meeting can be scheduled for June to resolve the zoning change and land sale.

For the most part, neighbors like the film studio idea, said Timothy Grandy, a town meeting representative and neighborhood resident who serves on the citizens advisory committee.

He said neighbors see it as preferable to a failed plan in the early 1990s to put an outdoor theme park called DreamWorld on the 1,000-acre site, or to a casino plan.

“My gut feeling it that (Plymouth Rock Studios) want to do the right thing,” Grandy said. “They’ve responded to all our concerns. We want them to create a project like a movie with a happy ending.”

Tamara Race may be reached at

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