Project name: North Hollywood Redevelopment Project
Year established: 1979
Spending cap: $535.6 million
Total public money spent to date: $89 million.
Major accomplishments: Rehabilitation or construction of 1,910 housing units, development of 469,000 square feet of office and retail space, including the Academy Entertainment and Business Center, Ralph's Shopping Center, and Hewlett Packard offices.
By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD
When the North Hollywood Redevelopment Project was established in 1979, the city of Los Angeles was out to transform a blighted, crime-plagued community into a thriving commercial and residential center.
The ambitious Community Redevelopment Agency plan called for the creation of a mini-Century City in the commercial core, with office towers, retail space, a four-star hotel, restaurants and banquet facilities.
It hasn't quite worked out that way.
Though the agency succeeded in bringing the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to North Hollywood and developing 469,000 square feet of office and retail space, plans for the hotel and vastly more retail and office space died with the real estate downturn in the early '90s.
Now, as the CRA positions itself for the most ambitious project ever in the area a $750 million, 2.8 million-square-foot studio sound stage and commercial complex critics are more than a little dubious.
"The Academy project was a terrible development. It sat vacant for five years. The first developer went bankrupt, and the retail space never did pan out. Now this," said Milder Welder, a long-time CRA foe.
Plans for the North Hollywood Studio Complex come at a time when the entertainment industry the target market for the project is trying to cut production costs. In addition, sound stages, a key component of the complex, already are in abundant supply in Los Angeles.
And the project is built on the assumption that North Hollywood can absorb 260,000 square feet of office space annually for 10 years.
"I feel this project is overly optimistic," said Glenn Hoiby, a member of a citizens committee that oversees redevelopment in North Hollywood. "It's a grandiose plan that I'm not sure has much potential for success."
Not so, says J. Allen Radford, whose group, JARCO/SLG & G; LLC, expects the City Council to soon give the CRA the go-ahead to negotiate a development agreement with his group.
While it's true L.A. has a lot of sound stages, Radford said most of the facilities are obsolete, creating a demand for a state-of-the-art complex like the one he is proposing.
The project is located amid a cluster of media companies stretching from Disney Studios in Burbank to the CBS Studio Group in Studio City. And with the nearby Metro Red Line station scheduled for completion next spring, the community is poised to become a transportation hub for the east San Fernando Valley.
All of that has made Radford confident that his project will move forward.
"We're completing plans for the first phase, and we hope to break ground early next year," said Radford. "Not only is our project going to create a great number of jobs, but they will be high-paying jobs."
The CRA is looking to keep its financial involvement to a minimum. It expects to receive and earmark $17 million in federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to aid land acquisition by the developer and to make off-site traffic improvements.
Radford is expected to fund the remainder of the project himself.
The CRA board in March tentatively selected Radford and JARCO/SLG & G; LLC to redevelop the 42-acre-chunk of mostly run-down manufacturing and auto shop businesses. The site is located along Chandler Boulevard, between Lankershim Boulevard and Vineland Avenue next to the new Red Line station.
Walter Beaumont, the CRA's assistant project manager in North Hollywood, said studies suggest there is support for the development. If market conditions change substantially, later phases can be adjusted to compensate, he said.
"When you start breaking it down in phases, it starts becoming a smaller, more manageable project," he said. "You have the potential to reinvent yourself as you go along."
While progress has been relatively slow, North Hollywood was in even worse shape when the city created the redevelopment area in 1979.
"Near Magnolia and Lankershim (boulevards) you had prostitution and drug dealing. There were a variety of different gangs active in the area," said Beaumont. "There were a lot of older folks living in North Hollywood at the time, and there was a real sense of panic."
Don Spivack, deputy administrator of the CRA, conceded that the agency made some missteps in North Hollywood, but believes the overall redevelopment effort has been a success.
While the Academy project didn't fully live up to expectations especially the retail component it did help position North Hollywood as an entertainment enclave, which in turn could help create a market for Radford's studio project.
Beaumont noted that of all the redevelopment projects in L.A., North Hollywood returns the most on the city's investment. According to a CRA report, the project area nets $2.1 million in property taxes a year that the agency can use to administer its projects. By comparison, the next biggest revenue generator is the Chinatown project, which nets $995,000 a year for use by the CRA.
Tom Henry, planning director for Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents the area, said North Hollywood appears poised for a real rebirth this time around because of its thriving community of artists and the coming Metro Rail station.
"The time is ripe now to really get some anchor projects in," said Henry. "I think we'll see a complete turnaround."
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