Mattel Gets New CEO
The former chief of Kraft Foods was named the new chairman and CEO of Mattel Inc., the troubled toy manufacturer that has been plagued with sagging sales and profits.
Robert A. Eckert is taking over the helm at the world’s largest toy maker. He replaces Jill Barad, who resigned under pressure in February.
Eckert joins the El Segundo-based company at a critical time. Mattel needs to quickly determine how it will attack the fast-growing market for high-tech toys and how it will boost sales of its core brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels.
Eckert is best known for his creative marketing techniques and ability to improve the performance of lackluster brands. Kraft’s $17.5 billion in annual sales is more than triple the amount generated by Mattel.
City Suspends Playa Vista Funds
Facing protests about potentially explosive methane gas and public subsidies for the developer, L.A. city officials suspended approval of $135 million in financing for the Westside’s sprawling Playa Vista development.
The action by the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee cheered longtime critics of the project. But officials cautioned that they might ultimately recommend release of the funds, which would be used to construct roads, a storm-water runoff system and habitat for migratory birds at the Playa del Rey development.
The delay, officials said, will allow them to study complaints by environmental groups that strongly oppose the project.
Web Firm Shutting Down
Digital Entertainment Network, the pioneering Internet video company that attracted top investors and national attention to its bid to revolutionize entertainment on the Web, is closing down.
The Santa Monica-based company, known as DEN, failed to get a new round of financing and ran out of cash three months after withdrawing its initial public stock offering.
Not long ago, DEN was leading the convergence of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, as it worked to create a new TV-style entertainment system delivered on the Internet. But the company became notorious in the Internet world for adopting Hollywood excesses and making a series of bad business decisions at a time when it had no revenue.
Newspaper Sale Option Disclosed
Times Mirror Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, has an option to purchase the Daily News of Los Angeles under a two-year-old agreement, officials at the papers said. However, parties on both sides indicated that such a purchase is unlikely, in part because of antitrust issues.
Garden State Newspapers, which controls the Daily News, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and several smaller area publications, said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it was paid $2.4 million to grant an option “to a third party to purchase substantially all the assets used in the publication of a certain newspaper beginning in 2003 and expiring in 2010 at the newspaper’s fair market value.”
Garden State officials said the option was part of a $50 million loan by Times Mirror to Garden State that helped finance Garden State’s $130 million purchase of the Daily News in 1998.
Council OKs L.A. Budget
In a series of rebuffs to Mayor Richard Riordan, the Los Angeles City Council approved a $4.4 billion budget that rejects the mayor’s efforts to earmark federal tobacco settlement money to cover Rampart-related liabilities and his attempt to cut off funds for the controversial L.A. Bridges anti-gang program.
Without discussion, the council voted unanimously to turn down Riordan’s request to immediately secure $91 million for Rampart-related expenses by giving up the city’s claim to nearly $300 million in tobacco settlement funds over the next 25 years.
Council members decided instead to place $30 million in a special savings account and to pursue other loans, such as judgment obligation bonds, to help pay for litigation growing out of the Rampart police corruption scandal.
Disney Park Opening Set
Walt Disney Co. said its second theme park in Anaheim will open Feb. 8, fulfilling a decades-old dream of making Disneyland more like the Disney World “destination resort” in Florida.
The complex, which includes the California Adventure theme park, a luxury hotel, and a dining and entertainment strip, is designed to redefine the Southern California vacation experience for millions of tourists each year, said Paul Pressler, president of Disney’s parks and resorts unit.
California Adventure represents the largest expansion in Disneyland’s 45-year history and will create 7,000 new jobs. Disney expects the expansion to add 7 million theme park admissions a year in Anaheim, where annual Disneyland attendance has been running more than 13 million.
On a related front, news surfaced last week that Disney is talking with the city of Anaheim about a possible third theme park. Disney has submitted questions about zoning, land use and infrastructure for 80 acres of land it owns a block from Disneyland.
Hotel Occupancy Increases
Strong local convention business and the nation’s continuing obsession with travel helped push occupancy to nearly 80 percent at Los Angeles County’s major hotels in March, allowing operators to raise the average room rate more than 3 percent from the year-ago level.
The average nightly hotel room rate rose to $120.72 in March from $117.03 a year earlier, according to PKF Consulting in Los Angeles. The 80 occupancy rate was a 5 percentage point improvement from March 1999.
Michael Collins, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau, said four events in March at the Los Angeles Convention Center generated 12,000 more overnight stays than did a comparable number of shows a year ago.
Edison Dumps Coal Plant
Southern California Edison jettisoned a public-relations headache by agreeing to sell its majority stake in the Mohave Generating Station, a giant coal-fired power plant that environmentalists contend is a prime contributor to the haze that hovers over the Grand Canyon.
AES Corp. of Arlington, Va., said it will pay $533 million for the 56 percent interest in the plant held by Edison, the Rosemead-based utility arm of Edison International.
AES has become an eager shopper amid the power-plant sales required by the 2-year-old restructuring of the California electricity market. With the proposed purchase of the Mohave plant, AES would own nearly 6,000 megawatts of power generation in the Southwest, or almost as much as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Port Activity Booming
The Port of Los Angeles continued to break import cargo volume records in April, taking in more than 400,000 containers in a single month for the first time in its history, port officials said.
With Pacific trade booming and more ships calling on the port than last year, the facility handled more than 211,000 import cargo containers, 44 percent more than in April 1999. Exports, which have been steadily rebounding along with improved economic conditions in Asia, topped 85,000, a 34 percent increase over year-ago levels.
Bruce Stanton, the port’s chief operating officer, attributed the jump in imports to U.S. retailers’ early stockpiling of Christmas merchandise. April marks the fourth month in a row that L.A. port imports have set month-over-month records.