On Monday night, Hackman Capital Partners, the company that purchased the historic Television City studios at Beverly and Fairfax from CBS Television in 2019, won a recommendation of support for its proposed $1.3 billion makeover of the property from the Mid City West Neighborhood Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee. Public support for the project at the meeting significantly outweighed opposition…but, as the LA Times reported on Tuesday, a new player – Rick Caruso, owner of the nearby Grove shopping mall and current mayoral candidate – has now joined the fight against the development. According to the Times, the new Beverly Fairfax Community Alliance, formed to fight the Hackman proposal, is being funded jointly by Caruso’s development firm and the A.F. Gilmore Company, owners of the Original Farmers Market adjacent to the Grove.
According to the Hackman presentation at the Mid City West meeting on Monday, the William Pereira-designed Television City, which opened in 1952, was the first studio built exclusively for television production, and has remained in use ever since. It was declared a City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in 2018.
Hackman Capital Partners purchased the property from CBS in 2019, and the company first announced plans in early 2021 for a major renovation and modernization of the facility. That initial plan, however, ran into considerable opposition, especially from the Los Angeles Conservancy and other preservation advocates, because it proposed constructing new structures over and around the iconic original buildings, significantly obscuring the historic resource.
Since then, however, Hackman has worked closely with the Conservancy and released a significantly revised design (shown at the top of this story), which moves much of the new building mass away from the existing historic structures. The new design eventually won support from the Conservancy, and at Monday’s MCWNC PLUC meeting, Conservancy representative Adrian Scott Fine called it a “win-win” for everyone, with the organization now in “full support” of the plans.
The updated design was used as the basis for a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the project, which was released in July and is now open for public comments.
At Monday night’s meeting, Hackman representatives reviewed the current project details, and then a lengthy public comment period revealed some key themes in the ongoing discussion. In the end, the committee voted to recommend that the MCWNC board support the project as currently presented.
According to Bob Hale, representing architecture firm Rios Inc. at Monday’s meeting, a fully modern production “city” must include stages, production support areas (including loading and parking), traffic and emergency circulation, and both production and general office space. But because of the way the Television City site is currently configured, Hale said, not all of it is available for new construction, and the placement of new structures will be dictated, to a large degree, by what’s there already (including the historic original buildings and the “viewsheds” that allow them to be seen and appreciated from the street).
The current plans for the facility will use what Television City representative Brian Glodney called a “layer cake approach” to create 350,000 square feet of stages, 104,000 square feet of production support space, 700,000 square feet of general office space, and 20,000 square feet of retail space (to “activate” the edges of the property along Beverly Blvd. and Fairfax Ave.)…while also keeping the landmarked original buildings “as the centerpiece of the whole project,” according to Hale.
Hackman is also requesting that the area be covered under a new “Specific Plan” that would allow all the different uses being planned for the site, and their more consistent development. Hale explained that similar specific plans have been proposed and/or adopted in the last few years for redevelopments at Fox Studios, NBC Universal, and Paramount Pictures in the Melrose/Larchmont area.
The Specific Plan would also also increase the floor area ratio allowed for the location from 1.5 to 1.75, to allowed for the new square footage the project is adding to the site. In response to stakeholder concerns about building height, however, Hale noted that there are currently no height restrictions for the property, and the new Specific Plan would actually create six new height-restricted areas for the site, allowing maximum heights from 58′ to 225,’ which is actually more restrictive than the current zoning.
Hackman is also requesting that the zoning for the project be changed to a Regional Center designation, to formalize what Hale said is already a wide mix of uses and activities at the site, as well as its function as a large jobs center.
After Hale’s presentation, traffic consultant Pat Gibson addressed concerns about the effects the project would have on local traffic, and presented charts illustrating traffic volumes at the peak morning and evening rush hours on local streets, and estimating the percentage that would come from the TVC 2050 project.
Finally in the Monday’s formal presentation, consultant Lisa Trifiletti explained that the project will incorporate “industry leading sustainability features,” and will pursue LEED gold or equivalent levels of green building standards.
Trifiletti also reported that the Draft EIR found the project will have “no significant impacts” during operations after it’s built, and only temporary noise, air quality and vibration impacts during construction.
Finally, Trifiletti reported that in response to requests from the community and City Councilmember Paul Koretz, the 45-day public comment period on the Draft EIR will be held open for an additional 15 days. After that, she said, the project will will move forward to its final EIR phase, and then to hearings at the Planning Commission, City Council Plum Committee, and City Council. Throughout that process, she said, there will be many further opportunities for public comment and input.
Comments and Discussion
After the developers’ formal presentations on Monday, more than 50 people weighed in during the public comment section of the meeting, with more than 40 of those expressing unqualified support and enthusiasm for the plans.
Among the 40+ supporters, more than half identified themselves as either current or former Television City employees, or members of unions connected to the entertainment and/or construction industries. Another eight people speaking in strong support of the project identified themselves as members of local business associations (including the Melrose Business Improvement District, the LA Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Federation)…while several others, including the owner of Canter’s Deli and a representative from the Jewish Free Loan Association, spoke on behalf other smaller businesses and organizations in the area.
In general, those speaking in favor of the project cited the needs for renovation and modernization of the studio’s outdated production facilities, keeping more production business in the city of Los Angeles, adding jobs to the mid-city area (something that will also benefit the environment if people don’t have to drive so far to work), and the sheer number of jobs the project will bring to the area, both during construction and later operations of the facility. In short, Monday’s supporters said the project was a great fit for the location and would bring many benefits to the community.
At the same time, however, there was a smaller but consistent undercurrent of concern, as 11 other people – most of them local residents – expressed worries about the potential diminishment of the local water table (via dewatering work during construction), the possibility of increased traffic congestion on the already-notoriously-crowded Beverly Blvd. and Fairfax Ave., and neighborhood cut-through traffic, which the DEIR notes could affect as many as six adjacent residential areas. (A few people also asked if the DEIR’s traffic projections took into account the new Town & Country development currently in the works at Third and Fairfax, but the developers said it did.)
While expressing these concerns, however, most of the neighborhood speakers were also careful to say they don’t completely oppose the project – just that they’d like additional time to review the lengthy and highly technical DEIR, and additional time to discuss their concerns with developers, to seek solutions or mitigations before the project moves forward.
Among the few speakers who more fully opposed the project, some said they disagreed with the DEIR’s findings that the project won’t cause any negative traffic effects in the area, that the project is inconsistent with the existing Wilshire Community Plan and the city’s General Plan, and that the project’s size and scale will overwhelm nearby neighborhoods.
At several points, however, some of the project supporters in the audience also pointed out that at least some of the most vehement opponents seemed to be quoting from a letter or flyer recently sent out by Caruso’s opposition organization.
Committee Discussion, Vote…and Later Developments
After the public comments, committee member Hunter Burgarella said he “strongly opposed” the project, largely because of concerns about neighborhood cut-through traffic, and the lack of specific mitigations offered by the developers (who did say they are planning to work with all the local neighborhoods on traffic improvement and mitigation measures). Burgarella also said that while he does support job development, this is the wrong place to add more jobs because of the already-congested streets.
Committee member Isack Fadlong echoed Burgarella’s traffic concerns, and said he, too, would like more time to digest the Draft EIR and talk to developers about potential issues and mitigations.
Finally, though, committee co-chair Chris Dower called for a vote, and the motion to recommend that the MCWNC board support the project passed with three votes in favor, one opposed, and one abstention.
Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Caruso’s recent entry into the Television City discussion as an oppositional force has definitely drawn attention. In yesterday’s LA Times story, A. F. Gilmore Marketing Director Ilysha Buss said the new Beverly Fairfax Community Alliance “opposes the development plan in its current form because it would designate the Television City site as a “regional center,” which she characterized as “very much out of scale and inappropriate for this neighborhood.””
But the story also quotes Hackman senior vice president Zach Sokoloff, who says his company met several times with representatives of Caruso’s firm, who focused on the effect the project would have on the Grove Drive, a public street that serves as an entrance to the shopping center’s parking structure and valet area.”
Sokoloff also told the Times that, “More recently…their legal counsel made that threat directly to our legal counsel, suggesting that if we didn’t dramatically restrict our proposed use of the Grove Drive, they would launch a public and aggressive community campaign, activating hundreds of community members and sowing opposition to our proposed modernization at the studio.”
A Caruso representative quoted by the Times denied the threat, but reported that Caruso will be stepping down from his CEO position (which will be assumed by current Chief Development Officer Corinne Verdery) on September 1. Caruso had previously promised to step down, and put his company into a blind trust, at the end of the year if he wins the election.
[This story was updated after its initial publication to correct the number of days in the DEIR comment period, the specific projected construction impacts, and the committee’s vote tally, and to clarify descriptions of other studio specific plans and the group of people who opposed the project in public comments.]