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Lionsgate Has Paws on New Entertainment Studio

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

December 18 -- In what is called a "float-up review," the Planning Commission last week gave Lionsgate the okay to make a safari into the City’s development agreement process that could result in an entertainment studio instead of the artist studios previously proposed for the industrial site.

Lionsgate, a 10-year-old multimedia production and distribution company based in Santa Monica, presented concept plans to redevelop the 1.8-acre site in the Light Manufacturing and Studio District (LMSD) for its international corporate headquarters.

Basic schematic plans for the 2834 Colorado Avenue site -- which are opposed by neighborhood groups in the area -- consist of demolishing one-story commercial buildings occupied by a variety of small industrial businesses and building a three-story, 115,200 square foot entertainment studio over three levels of subterranean parking.

Colorado Creative Studios -- the property’s current owner and the applicant for the Lionsgate proposal -- filed an application last year to redevelop the site with 54 artist studios. But the group’s managing partner, Jack Walter, changed his mind after Lionsgate executives approached him about using the site for entertainment company headquarters.

“I agreed to set aside my artist studios project temporarily to pursue the postproduction facility because I believe this is the right project for this site and because there is support from the community and the City for creative arts in the LMSD,” Walter said.

The artist studios project will move forward if the Lionsgate proposal does not, Walter said.

Walter will oversee the Lionsgate project with architect David Hibbert and, if complete, Lionsgate will own its headquarters while Walter retains management of the property.

Neighboring businesses such as The Gas Company and Le Petit Café support entertainment studio uses at the site and Lionsgate as the owner.

Lionsgate’s lease at its current Santa Monica location expires in May 2011 and company executives have expressed a desire to remain in the city.

Executives also said they wish the entertainment company could own its headquarters instead of being a tenant.

The entertainment company independently produces and distributes film, television and music videos such as the Saw horror movie series, 3:10 to Yuma, The Dead Zone, Mad Men and Weeds.

Mark Manuel, Lionsgate executive vice president of structured finance, told the Planning Commission the headquarters would be used for corporate administrative purposes as well as creative postproduction work.

There was much debate and confusion about what offices are because even though spaces may look like they are being used for corporate administration, creative postproduction is handled inside those spaces.

“I am trying to get a handle on whether we would be recommending a development agreement that is essentially another Water Garden,” said Commissioner Julia Lopez Dad.

“Is this building going to have a certain number of square feet of administrative offices and a certain number of square feet of actual postproduction work? Are we setting up a big office building?” she asked.

Office space uses are important, Commissioner Hank Koning said, because the City’s municipal code limits corporate administration to 25 percent in buildings in the LMSD.

Manuel told Lopez Dad and Konig that he believes Lionsgate corporate administration uses are at or below 25 percent.

Eileen Fogarty, the City’s director of Planning and Community Development, said the kind of square footage breakdown Lopez Dad is asking for has not been evaluated by planners at this concept stage in the float-up review process.

“The proposal is consistent with the General Plan and consistent with the direction of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update,” Fogarty said.

Those aspects are new transportation and sustainability principles that have come forward recently in a series of LUCE workshops.

Because Lionsgate is a single employer occupant, Fogarty said the entertainment company and City planners can more easily develop a transportation plan that encourages employees to use mass transit and carpool.

Lionsgate already offers employees cash incentives not to use their personal vehicles, Manuel said, and also hands out free mass transit passes.

The entertainment company plans to construct its new headquarters using environmentally friendly building materials and capitalize on the prospect of a future Expo light rail station within a five-minute walk of the site.

Walter said traffic impacts would not increase above the site’s current industrial uses because creative arts employees keep staggered hours beyond a typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.

He believes the majority of Lionsgate employees will drive east from Los Angeles, work at the eastside Santa Monica headquarters and drive east to go home, therefore hardly ever taking their vehicles into “Santa Monica proper.”

Zina Josephs, a Friends of Sunset Park board member, and Catherine Eldridge, a resident of Village Trailer Park which is 220 feet from the proposed headquarters, disagree with Walter and Fogarty.

Friends of Sunset Park, Village Trailer Park Association, Pico Neighborhood Association and the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City object to the Lionsgate proposal because they want building moratoriums in certain parts of the city, including the LMSD, until the LUCE update process is near complete.

“We don’t know that all employees will drive east and at least some of them will be traveling south on Stewart Street, then on 28th Street and into Sunset Park as many drivers do,” Josephs said.

“We have a constant stream of traffic and gridlock. We are concerned about traffic and about going into development agreements before the LUCE process is finished,” she said.

Commissioners unanimously recommended that the City Council initiate the development agreement negotiation and review process.

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“I agreed to set aside my artist studios project temporarily to pursue the postproduction facility." Jack Walter


“The proposal is consistent with the General Plan and consistent with the direction of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update.” Eileen Fogarty


"We are concerned about traffic and about going into development agreements before the LUCE process is finished.” Zina Josephs


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