After decades of economic hardship and a string of misfortunes, North Hollywood is once again capturing the interest of private developers.
Jarco/SLG & G; LLC of Santa Monica has announced plans to develop a $400 million to $500 million studio, office, retail and hotel complex along the 43-acre site of the project between Vineland Avenue and Lankershim Boulevard north of Magnolia Boulevard.
At the other end of North Hollywood, owners of the Valley Plaza mall are seeking a buyer interested in redeveloping the center, which has become run down in recent years and has had a 30 percent vacancy rate.
While the studio project alone may not lift North Hollywood out of its doldrums, it could start a chain reaction of development throughout the community, business and government officials agree.
"Investors draw more investment," said Bob Scott, vice chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. "When people see important players making investments in an area, it has a spinoff effect."
Valley Plaza, which has 30 separate owners, was in negotiations with the Arba Group of West L.A. to buy and redevelop the mall. But Arba President Ira Smedra said his company has now dropped those talks, saying only that the project no longer fits into its long-term plans.
Mary Roberts, a broker with Anchor Management, the on-site management company for Valley Plaza, is optimistic that a new developer will step forward to reposition the mall.
"The reaction of the sellers is unanimous," she said. "The property is still for sale, and we're going to stay together."
Blighted by the flight of business and the residents who followed, a 75-acre area of North Hollywood was deemed a Community Redevelopment project area in 1979. Since then, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles has spent over $150 million on the area, with mixed results, business and community leaders say.
But this time, the economy may be on the side of North Hollywood.
"There's a lot of activity going on now, and I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that it's a CRA area," said Renee Weitzer, chief field and planning deputy for City Councilman John Ferraro. "The economy is back."
Meanwhile, the proposed studio complex would sit at the center of a cluster of media companies that stretches from Disney Studios in Burbank to the CBS Studio Group in Studio City.
"I've been told that this is, by far, the best location of anything that's been under development (for studios)," said J. Allen Radford, a principal of Jarco.
Radford has secured agreements to acquire about 26 of the 43 acres he plans for the project. That's enough to develop 10 sound stages of 18,000 square feet each, another "super stage" of 42,000 square feet, and 150,000 square feet of additional production and support services facilities planned for 16 acres
between Chandler Boulevard and Cumston Street to the north and Vineland and Fair Avenue to the east.
Also included in the first phase of development is a 10-acre site fronting Lankershim Boulevard that would house two office towers and about 50,000 square feet of retail space as well as a hotel.
"The studios are the magnet," said Radford, who has also developed the Foothills Mall in Asuza and the La Mirada Mall. "That's what brings post production, other offices and retail. It kick starts all the rest of it."
The city of Los Angeles recently agreed to seek a $15 million federal grant to help subsidize the development.
Radford said one possible tenant is DreamWorks SKG, which is having trouble reaching an agreement for development of its planned studio campus in the new Playa Vista project near Marina del Rey. But he added that the talks are very preliminary.
Radford said that in order to complete his project, which involves close to 1 million additional square feet of campus office space, he must complete negotiations with about 75 individual property owners.
Though he has already secured agreements from many of these owners, there are a few holdouts. That may require the assistance of the CRA, which can use its ability to exercise eminent domain to obtain the remaining parcels.
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