Film production equipment company buys church rectory in Turners Falls

  • The rectory of the former Saint Anne’s Church in Turners Falls is being bought and renovated by FastLights, a movie production equipment rental company that operates out of the adjacent church. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Saint Anne’s Church on J Street in Turners Falls is owned by FastLights, a movie production equipment rental company. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/8/2019 5:35:37 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The rectory of the former St. Anne’s church on J Street, which has been empty and deteriorating for a decade, is being redeveloped by FastLights, a movie production equipment rental company that operates out of the former church.

The timeline for renovating the building will depend on what tax credits the rectory is eligible for as a historic site, said FastLights owner John Anctil. FastLights plans to use the extra space for offices and post-production work, he said.

Minor renovations will be made as soon as possible, like repairing weather-related deterioration to bricks around the chimney, fixing water infiltration around windows and removing squirrel nests from the gutters, Anctil said.

The rectory has been owned by the town since 2012. It was donated by a bank that had foreclosed on it after most of the inside was destroyed in a fire a few years prior, according to Town Planner Walter Ramsey. The building would have been demolished if it hadn’t been donated.

“It’s a vacant shell of a building,” Ramsey said.

The town has been marketing the property since receiving it. But issues with the title have complicated that. The rectory is physically attached to the church, but the two properties were illegally subdivided at some point, Ramsey said. Selling the building to Anctil, who also owns the church, gives a unique opportunity to resolve the title issues, Ramsey said.

Anctil’s proposal to redevelop the rectory was the only application the town received in response to a request for proposals it made this summer, according to Town Administrator Steve Ellis. Ellis said that he and Ramsey deemed it better to award the contract than to deny it and seek more proposals.

“(The rectory) is at a point now where it really needs to be stabilized,” Ramsey said.

FastLights has operated out of the church for about 10 years, Anctil said. But in the past he has been hesitant to invest heavily in the church, not knowing what would happen with the rectory, he said.

His proposal for the building outlined FastLights’ plans to expand into producing “micro-budget” movies in the range of $250,000 to $500,000, like movies seen on the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime Movies; and education on film production, likely through collaboration with Greenfield Community College or one of the five colleges in Amherst and Northampton, Anctil said.

FastLights’ mission for moving into film production is to make movies that focus on social or environmental issues, Anctil said.

“The moving image is the most powerful tool for change,” Anctil said. “Why can’t we make something about the small nuances of the trouble that our bees are in, or the trouble our waters are in?”

Anctil had tried to expand similarly by buying the former Strathmore paper mill in 2007. The town repossessed the building in 2010 due to unpaid taxes. Ramsey noted that Anctil is now current on his taxes.

The rectory costs $25,000. The change of ownership should be finalized in the next month or two, Ramsey said.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.


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