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Old South Weymouth base goes Hollywood after all

An earlier plan for filmmaking at the old naval station fell flat, but a new one is giving the property a shot at the spotlight

A hangar at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station is being renovated into a film studio and sports facility.
A hangar at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station is being renovated into a film studio and sports facility. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

Plans for an ambitious film studio at the old South Weymouth Naval Air Station evaporated several years ago after developers failed to secure the financing they needed.

But the former military property, now primarily a housing development known as SouthField, will get another chance at the spotlight. A new master developer is moving ahead with a more modest plan to make a vacant aircraft hangar available to production companies.

Instead of the $100 million-plus that a previous developer proposed investing in the earlier “SouthField Studios” project, Raleigh, N.C.-based LStar Communities is spending less than $1 million to retrofit the hangar in a matter of weeks after the developer learned the company behind the reboot of the movie “Ghostbusters” was interested in filming there.

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Set to begin this month, the Ghostbusters filming will be the first major motion picture shot at the former station. But it may not be the last. LStar managing partner Kyle Corkum said he has already fielded calls from at least two other companies interested in bringing productions there.

Workers carried a set piece for the new “Ghostbusters” film, the first major motion picture shot at the former station.
Workers carried a set piece for the new “Ghostbusters” film, the first major motion picture shot at the former station. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

SouthField seemed destined to stay off Hollywood’s radar after the failure of a California company’s 2008 plan to build as many as a dozen soundstages. The previous SouthField project had been proposed to take advantage of the state’s generous film tax credits — which went into effect in 2006 and were sweetened in 2007 — by capitalizing on the new wave of productions the credits attracted.

But the developers behind that plan, as well as those behind a rival studio proposal in Plymouth, seemed unable to attract the production work or the financing needed to kick-start either project.

The blow was particularly hard for SouthField, whose previous developers and overseers struggled to bring commercial projects to the roughly 1,400-acre property.

“This is quite different,” said Peter Forman, chief executive at the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. “This is a case of at least one studio and filmmaker finding a site, with several other potential projects behind this one . . . This one is real because we actually have filmmakers looking at it.”

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The latest film studio concept almost didn’t happen. Before LStar acquired the SouthField development in May, the hangar had been slated for demolition. But Corkum saw a future for a 35,000-square-foot hangar with 50-foot ceilings. At the time, he envisioned a sports complex next to a town green that would eventually be built there.

Then came the unexpected call about “Ghostbusters,” days after the deal closed. Corkum said he was told that the old Navy facility, with its high ceiling, would be well-suited for a movie shoot. He began to re-imagine the property as a soundstage.

“It woke us up to the potential for this, getting us to think more ambitiously,” Corkum said.

Construction on the set of “Ghostbusters,” was underway at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.
Construction on the set of “Ghostbusters,” was underway at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

LStar put its crews to work, investing more than $500,000 to get the hangar ready for its brush with stardom, Corkum said. The floor was refurbished. All 2,600 windowpanes are being replaced. And the exterior is getting a badly needed paint job.

“LStar has really shined up that hangar,” said Charlie Harrington, a veteran location manager who was at the property on Thursday. “I think it’s going to be a great resource for Massachusetts in bringing in jobs and money. . . . It can grow into something really big, just because of its proximity to Boston.”

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Corkum said set construction is underway, and more than 20 crew members are on site. (He declined to name the movie for contractual reasons, but it’s widely known in the local film industry that “Ghostbusters” is going there.) Filming is expected to last for about a month.

LStar is now eyeing a 100,000-square-foot office complex adjacent to the hangar as a possible incubator space for media companies, such as those in advertising and film production. He said he’s working with the state’s film office to promote the hangar and adjacent land as a staging ground for other movies: The flat, open spaces are ideal for outdoor sets and trailers.

Corkum plans to relegate the hangar’s athletic uses to the winter months, when filming in Massachusetts slows down and the need for indoor athletic venues is high. The sports complex could serve people who live in SouthField — about 400 housing units have been built, with hundreds more in the pipeline — as well as families in nearby communities.

But he remains hopeful that, at some point, he can keep the stage lights on year-round in the building.

Jodi Purdy-Quinlan, a South Shore-based freelance casting director, said that producers often turn to warehouses and other vacant industrial buildings for temporary soundstages — for example, Disney’s “The Finest Hours” was filmed at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy last year.

The South Weymouth hangar’s imposing size and its location 17 miles from downtown Boston, she said, could ensure the flow of year-round work.

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“This is just going to open the doors,” Purdy-Quinlan said.

Even though the previous Weymouth studio project failed, another development group succeeded two years ago in building a four-stage complex in Devens, about an hour northwest of Boston. New England Studios offers a turnkey operation there for film crews. But some in the industry say it may be too far from Boston to fully capitalize on the major motion pictures that are filmed in and around the city.

The arrival of “Ghostbusters,” which has been shooting in Boston in recent weeks, coincided with another debate on Beacon Hill about the future of the state’s film tax credits. Governor Charlie Baker had tried to eliminate them, but legislative leaders decided to protect the status quo in the state budget they approved last month.

Workers will be installing 2,600 Plexiglass window panes in a hangar, shown above.
Workers will be installing 2,600 Plexiglass window panes in a hangar, shown above.(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

Turning on more bright lights near Boston

SOUTHFIELD: Developer LStar Communities is quickly converting a 35,000-square-foot aircraft hanger for use as a massive soundstage with a 50-foot ceiling height. The 1,400-acre property also offers room for staging areas and set construction outside of the hangar. Eventually, LStar would like to make adjacent office space, now vacant, available to production crews. The property is about 17 miles from downtown Boston.

NEW ENGLAND STUDIOS: The 112,000-square-foot complex includes four 18,000-square-foot soundstages as well as separate buildings for carpentry, costuming, and other crew work. Ceilings are 60 feet high, and the chambers already have extensive electrical systems installed with filming in mind. The project is about 43 miles from downtown Boston.

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Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.