At its monthly meeting last week, the Mid City Neighborhood Council voted – after a three-and-a-half-hour discussion – to support the proposal by Hackman Capital Partners to expand and modernize the historic Television City studio at Beverly Blvd. and Fairfax Ave.
Hackman purchased the facility from original owner CBS in 2019, and the company first announced plans in early 2021 for a major renovation and modernization. The first version of the plan ran into opposition from historic preservation advocates because it placed large new structures above and around the original 1952 studio buildings, which were declared a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in 2018. But after working with the Los Angeles Conservancy on a new version of the plan (show above), which gave much greater prominence to the original buildings, Hackman did win support from the Conservancy, and the project moved forward into the environmental review process. A Draft Environmental Impact Report released in July, and was held open for public comment for 60 days.
During this period, on August 13, at the end of the second of two extensive discussions, the MCWNC’s Planning and Land Use Committee voted by a margin of three in favor, one opposed and one abstention to recommend that the MCWNC board support the project. And then it came up for a final vote at the MCWNC’s September 13 board meeting.
Because of the two previous presentations and discussions of the project at the PLUC meetings, the developers’ presentation and public comments on the project were intentionally briefer at last week’s board meeting, with comments taken from only about 40 stakeholders, though many more than that attended.
First, however, a quick overview of the project was provided by Hackman consultant Lisa Trifiletti, Hackman representatives Zach Sokoloff and Brian Glodney, and traffic consultant Pat Gibson. The team outlined the basic features of the project, which haven’t changed since the last MCWNC presentation in August. They include 350,000 square feet of sound stages, 104,000 square feet of production support space, 700,000 square feet of production office space, 700,000 square feet of additional office space, and 20,000 square feet of retail space along the Beverly and Fairfax frontages, which will be open to both Television City employees and the general public.
The developers are also requesting the creation of a new Television City Specific Plan, and a new Regional Center zoning designation for the site, which they say will help them plan and build with the studio’s next 20-30 years in mind, all at once, rather rely on a more piecemeal development over the same time frame. The developers also emphasized their willingness to help and work with the local community, especially when it comes to developing a local traffic management plan, for which they have set aside $250,000.
During public comments on the initial presentation, sentiments were fairly evenly divided. About 20 people – a mix of local residents, representatives of local business organizations, construction and production union representatives, and studio employees – said they support the project because the studio needs modernization to remain viable, the general community will benefit from the site’s revitalization, the project will bring much-needed jobs to the area, and the developers have so far been very supportive of the community, including their recent contribution to rebuild a fire-damaged playground at nearby Pan Pacific Park.
About the same number of people, however, all of them either nearby residents (several of whom said they belong to an advocacy organization called “Save Beverly Fairfax“) or owners of businesses at the Original Farmers Market, which lies just south of the studio, said they oppose the project because the size and scale will overwhelm the local community, because adding several thousand jobs at the site will also add to local traffic congestion, parking woes, and cut-through traffic in adjacent neighborhoods, because the project will remove tremendous amounts of dirt and, especially, groundwater, from a seismically sensitive area, and because some people simply feel that it’s premature to vote on the project until the final Environmental Impact Report is published and/or more detailed plans are provided by the developers.
Several of those who opposed the project also said the design is attractive, but that it’s just too big, with too many potential disruptions, for the current location.
“I’ve never seen a project that has the potential to devastate a neighborhood as much as this one,” said James O’Sullivan, a past president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and past member of the MCWNC board, echoing sentiments voice by a number of other speakers.
In an initial round of board discussion after the public comments, there was a similar split. Eight board members expressed their support, with a few caveats, while six said they opposed the project or would at least prefer to delay a vote until the final EIR is published and more information is available.
In response to the public and board comments, project representatives worked hard to clarify several facets of their presentation, including that while the plan is meant to enable 20-30 years of production growth at the studio, construction is scheduled to take only three years, not multiple decades. Also, the reason a traffic mitigation plan has not been created yet is that this is something usually done as a project evolves, and the developers are planning to work closely with the community in its development, based on input from the neighbors who will be most affected.
Also, the development team explained, limited ground space at the location, along with the historic structures that everyone agrees should be protected, means that additional space for growth can be gained only through “verticality,” which is why two new office towers are included in the plans. And finally, while some community members commented that large numbers of new jobs should be created near freeways, not residential areas, the developers pointed out that the city of Los Angeles now encourages job development near residential neighborhoods, and not freeways, to make it easier for people to get to work without relying on long commutes by car. They also explained that they will have shuttles available to carry employees to and from the Purple Line station about a mile away at Wilshire and Fairfax, and a ride subscription service to provide group transportation to and from the site.
Toward the end of the discussion, Board members proposed two potential amendments to the PLUC’s proposed motion to support the project – one which would have expressed support for the project itself, but with none of the zoning changes being proposed (which consultant Lisa Trifiletti said would make the project impossible to implement)…and one which would help encourage bicycle commuting by requiring the developers to build protected bike lanes on all streets around its perimeter (which the project representatives said might not be within their purview under current city regulations). But neither of those amendments passed board votes. In the end, the board voted by a margin of 20 votes in favor, 5 opposed, 2 abstentions and 2 recusals to officially support the Hackman proposal.
The Final Environmental Impact Report on the project will be published later this year, and then it will move to the City Planning Commission and City Council for further discussion, public input, and votes.