Los Angeles and Pasadena are gearing up for a competition that could mean a jewel in the cultural crown of either city: an expanded Art Center College of Design.

The Pasadena-based Art Center's board at the end of April will weigh three options for a much-needed campus expansion, to be designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The three scenarios being studied by the board are: expanding its current home, which sits on a 167-acre hillside campus in Pasadena; having a split campus its current campus along with another in downtown Pasadena or building a new campus from scratch on Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles.

Depending on which option is selected, the college could grow by anywhere from 100 percent to 300 percent. And the cost could range from $172 million to $248 million.

Art Center is pondering entitlement, design and financial constraints. And to help it make the best choice, the school has taken the rather unusual step of sending Pasadena and Los Angeles what it calls a "cooperative development inquiry." The document, in essence, asks each city to spell out entitlement and design issues and opportunities for assistance, either financially or through the permitting process.

The responses will give the college an idea of what can or cannot be done at each site and will become a key element in guiding the board's decision. But it's not as if whichever city comes up with the best proposal automatically wins, said Jerold Neuman of Allen Matkins, who is the college's land-use attorney.

"We want to find who is the best cooperative development partner. Both (cities) have a lot to offer and both are very different development opportunities, and the board would like to see a range of opportunities," Neuman said. "We hope they respond in the best, most creative way possible."

Battle between cities

Both cities are certain to make aggressive efforts to retain, or attract, the institution, which is well respected in the world of industrial and automotive design.

"The fiscal impact is large for either city, but that's not the only factor. There's the prestige factor, the halo factor," said Allan Kotin, principal of PCR Kotin, a land-use consultancy. "It's classy economic development."

Both cities have already been courting Art Center, in fact.

"We feel confident in Pasadena we can accommodate their needs," said Eric Duyshart, business development manager for Pasadena. "We clearly see the benefit to Art Center for staying in Pasadena."

Art Center's current hillside campus on Lida Street occupies about 37 acres, and it would be possible to build on at least another 37. But because it is in a residential area, any expansion could be met with neighborhood opposition. The school also is evaluating an auxiliary site at the corner of Los Robles Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.

For Los Angeles, the arrival of Art Center could add another bright new landmark along with people to downtown.

"We've been working with them extensively. We want them here," said Jeff Walden, director of the Los Angeles Business Team, which has already been studying possible incentives for Art Center. "We think they'd be a great asset."

The school is interested in a site on Grand and Olive avenues, between First and Third streets. It would join several other new cultural projects, including the Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

"It's what you'd have to classify as one of our crown jewels," said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the L.A. Economic Development Corp. "If they come into Los Angeles, Los Angeles can jump up and down and click their heels and crow. It would be major for downtown."

Kotin said he wouldn't describe the current process as a bidding war. He said the choice will come down in large part to design and entitlement issues.

No matter which site is chosen, the project will continue the ongoing elevation of the region's stature in the design world. The massive but under-performing Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood is being repositioned by its new owner, Charles S. Cohen. General Motors Corp. recently announced plans to move a new advanced design center to North Hollywood. And the local furniture industry is also roaring back to life.

Prestigious design center

The 70-year-old college has been located at its Pasadena campus since 1976. More than half the world's car designers are Art Center graduates. Alums have also made their mark in advertising.

"It's one of the most vibrant and exciting educational institutions in California and the world, and one of the most little known," Neuman said. "The idea is to expand in a way that can create a signature property that's world renowned as much for its art and its use and make a statement about where Art Center is and is going."

The college's new president, Richard Koshalek, agrees that the expansion is about more than getting new space. The school is in the process of redefining itself, raising its profile and expanding its programming.

"Art Center's had a 70-year history. It's at a crossroads. It has to go think in more concrete terms about its future and what space is needed, what new technology will mean in terms of spatial needs and the educational mission," Koshalek said.

Art Center is currently limited to 1,500 full-time enrolled students. With additional areas of study being contemplated, such as animation, new media and entertainment design, that number could rise to 1,900, said Ron Jernigan, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Jernigan said the school will soon be undertaking a major capital campaign to fund the expansion. He said officials want to have the new facilities in place for Art Center's 75th anniversary celebration in 2005.

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