March 1, 2001 - From the March, 2001 issue

Los Angeles Center Studios: Downtown Competes Successfully with Hollywood

A project in the heart of Downtown is making waves not merely in the core, but throughout the region. And as Downtown continues to build and recruit capacity, L.A. Center Studios is serving as a constant beacon in the attraction of critical mass. Stephan Smith, President and CEO of L.A. Center Studios, talked to TPR and explained why his studio project is integral to the emerging dynamic of Downtown and how he hopes to foster a partnership between the entertainment industry and Downtown L.A.

LA Center Studios

Stephan lets begin with the "Man Bites Dog" story-Why Downtown?

The primary reason we chose Downtown is because more location filming goes on in Downtown Los Angeles than anywhere on Earth-approximately 30-percent of the filming that occurs in L.A. County. So by locating here in Downtown we can tap directly into that base. Additionally, Downtown is also centrally located which is ideal for geographically dispersed cast and crews.

Describe what the plan and vision is for the Los Angeles Center Studios so are readers get a better idea of how the development fits together.

Our original plan was to construct inexpensive warehouses that we could tear down when the office market rebounded. But the more we looked into the office and stage markets, the more the signs pointed to building serious sound stages-so that's what we've done.

Phase one consists of 6 sound stages and 72 dressing rooms. After that we plan to build 6 additional sound stages with the necessary ancillary facilites consisting of additional dressing rooms, as well as meeting and gathering spaces. Our final phase which will tie the initial two phases together will create an integrated television and film campus, perhaps with a backlot streetscape using the Downtown skyline as a backdrop.

So when we're complete, we'll have at least: twelve 18,000 square foot sound stages; 450,000 square feet of office and meeting space; a 400-seat theater; a 40-seat screening room; and a full-service commissary.

In light of last year's Dreamworks project in Playa Vista failing, elaborate on the demand you're finding downtown as you're proceeding through the development process.

Downtown versus the Westside--the eternal debate.

There's a common perception that people in the entertainment industry don't want to be in Downtown-we've found that's simply not the case. For the most part directors, producers, actors, etc. really enjoy coming to Downtown, whether it's in a soundstage, on the streets or in the buildings. Downtown offers them a central location and since they don't work normal hours, commuting from San Gabriel, the South Bay, and the San Fernando Valley is much less a factor.

The Planning Report interviewed Doug Moreland and Ed Chuchla from Walt Disney Imagineering last December re: the Grand Central Creative Campus Project in Glendale. They expressed the main themes of their development as 1) the creation of a synergistic site much like a college campus, 2) a dynamic partnership with the city and 3) community involvement. Tie your project into that kind of framework. What interactions, what synergies do you expect to have between your entertainment campus in Downtown Los Angeles and downtown's traditional stakeholders?

Disney's vivid characterization of a synergistic campus is exactly what we're attempting to create. But our vision extends beyond just the campus atmosphere and extends to the larger dynamic of the Downtown community. Some of our employees and tenants have already leased apartments within walking distance of our development. We'd like to encourage more of that. So from that standpoint we're very interested in improving or enhancing the community around us.

Our goal is to incorporate the fresh element that the entertainment industry brings to Downtown and help create a 24-hour Downtown-we want to see Downtown come alive. And while it might not match what many envisioned 10 years ago, we believe that we're making positive strides and in many ways we've improved upon that previous vision.

Anaheim and Glendale both have very close working and supportive relationships with Disney. Are you dependent on the City of Los Angeles for cooperation or are you just hoping the public sector keeps out of the way?


We created the L.A. Center Studios with no public support. Obviously we deal with the city with respect to approvals, entitlements and inspections, but we received no subsidy. And while we're always anxious to help improve the neighborhood around us and create viable partnerships for the improvement of Downtown, we're not what one would consider a public-private partnership.

What do you expect the economic impact of your development to be for the City?

When all is said and done we'll attract about 3,000 actors, directors and crew to Downtown every day. And while I don't know what the figure will be in millions of dollars, I would imagine that it's quite significant in terms of people both spending their money in restaurants, purchasing various sundry items from vendors and eventually increasing the permanent community living in the urban core.

Carol Schatz, President and CEO of CCA and the Downtown BID said, "We see makings of a tremendous ripple effect across the freeway into the Downtown center as the workforce at L.A. Center Studios continues to grow. The eclectic creative community that the studio is aiming to develop includes the kind of employees that are attracted to what downtown has to offer." Is that bravado? Or is there truly a ripple effect happening to be expected?

I would hope that isn't bravado because that's exactly what we're looking to do.

The entertainment industry is brimming with young, creative people. And they are the type of people who look at loft-style apartments and love living in the Downtown environment. So our progress in conjunction with others such as Tom Gilmore and G.H. Palmer is extremely encouraging.

What's your perspective on the idea of Downtown Los Angeles as a destination place? And how will your studio fit into all the new energy surrounding Staples Phase 2, the Grand Avenue Plan and the opening of Disney Hall?

Downtown is a destination. It might very well be one of the lesser known destinations but Staples has brought an abundance of people to the core and shown them what Downtown's all about, and as Disney Hall nears completion it will undoubtedly build on the Music Center's already considerable base.

Downtown-with the cultural institutions, the sports and the entertainment-has really become the sports and entertainment mecca of Los Angeles. And I believe that our project fits quite well into that fabric.

Lastly, Los Angeles is in the midst of a contested Mayoral campaign. As a stakeholder now in the Downtown, what do you hope to hear and see from the candidates now vying for the political leadership of this city come July 1st?

We're certainly hoping that the winning candidate will be interested in the vitality of Downtown. One who understands the importance of having a vibrant city-center and who continues to promote the pro-business theme that Mayor Riordan has instilled both inside and outside City Departments. Those actions are essential to keeping business and developers in the City and we'd like to see that positive posture continue.


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