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Is it Lights Out for ‘Tonight’ in Burbank?

“The Tonight Show” may be leaving Burbank. But despite all the hullabaloo caused by the news, the departure would likely not have much of an impact on the local economy. The production occupies just a fraction of a million-square-foot complex that has already had tenant changes since being sold by NBCUniversal to a private developer in 2007. And budget cuts whittled down the show’s staff to less than 200 people last year – in a media district that attracts more than 25,000 employees each day. What’s more, the complex is already facing possible redevelopment, as NBC’s local news stations prepare to move to Universal City early next year as part of a network consolidation. A high-rise building had been proposed for part of the Burbank site, and some say a new Class A office tower might indeed be better. “We’ll see other companies come over the hill who outgrow space in Hollywood,” said Shadd Walker, senior vice president of office properties at Colliers International’s Los Angeles office. “There are still going to be media companies moving to Burbank.” Among the new notable developments is the Pointe, an M. David Paul/Worthe Real Estate Group building across the street from NBC’s sprawling Burbank complex. The 14-story Class A office building was constructed in 2009 by developers M. David Paul and Jeff Worthe. Two years earlier, they had acquired the 34-acre NBC property for a reported $250 million, renaming it Burbank Studios and leasing back space to the network, including “The Tonight Show” studio. Leno While the Pointe is still suffering from a 39 percent vacancy rate, it is attracting media and entertainment tenants. Last year, public television station KCET (28) took up two floors with a move into the building, bringing with it more than 400 employees. Internet radio company iHeart Radio, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications Inc., also signed a 10-year, 15,553-square-foot deal in the fourth quarter to move into Burbank Studios, according to a report from Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.. For its part, the city says it’s taking a potential move by “The Tonight Show” in stride, noting the fluidity of media companies in the area. Still, even if for publicity, Burbank Mayor Dave Golonski last week threatened a hunger strike if the plans move forward. “If it were to happen, we’d certainly try to do everything we could to keep them here,” said spokesman Drew Sugars. “From a marketing standpoint, it would be unfortunate, but we’re looking at more than 25,000 people who still come to work in entertainment companies in Burbank every day.” Shuffling studios While “The Tonight Show” may leave town, other productions have reached a decision. NBCUniversal is planning to move its news production departments – local channel KNBC and its Spanish-language KVEA news station – to Universal City in the early part of next year. According to Jamie Brown, manager of communications and community affairs for KNBC, the two stations together occupy close to 70,000 square feet of space at the Burbank Studios, which NBC has leased back since the sale. Other NBC business has already moved to Universal, but the news divisions will wait until their new space – in the studio that was briefly home to Conan O’Brien’s version of “The Tonight Show” – is built out. “While several other NBCUniversal businesses have moved from Burbank to other parts of the Universal lot, we will not move until the Universal City Broadcast Center is ready for us, after the end of the year,” Brown said. Disney Channel also is in the process of moving its operations out of nearly 400,000 square feet of space at 3800 Alameda Ave. to the company’s new campus in Glendale. But Sugars, the city spokesman, says there are other new companies already filling the void. “In the last year, we had quite a few media companies come to Burbank,” he said. “They may not be NBC or Disney, but they are expanding and growing.” There also have been expansions from existing media companies. Warner Bros. Entertainment leased additional space for its operations last year, and has been working to extend agreements it has with the city for development of its own lot, which currently totals more than 3.2 million square feet of office and production space. Corday Productions, which produces soap opera “The Days of Our Lives” at the Burbank Studios, renewed its 100,000-square-foot lease at the Burbank Studios for 10 years. No official word has yet confirmed that Jimmy Fallon, the heir apparent of “The Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, is forcing the production back to New York should he land the gig. However, numerous reports indicate that a studio is being readied for him at NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. And in 2010, NBCUniversal signed a lease for Studios 9 and 11 in Burbank for use by “The Tonight Show” through 2018, though that does not mean the show would have to stay. But whether the show stays or leaves, Burbank’s media district is likely to change drastically in the next few years – even if how that will all turn out isn’t perfectly clear yet. Sugars believes more offices are likely to go up, filled by smaller, more technology-oriented entertainment companies. But don’t count out the studio space just yet. There has been speculation that Clear Channel may want to take more space in the complex, and it may have a need for the infrastructure that’s in place. The production spaces occupied by NBC are highly specialized, and could be coveted property even without redevelopment or conversion. “It’s very specialized space, and so it could be gutted if there aren’t any takers, but if someone wants them for filming, which very well could happen, then it could stay,” said Walker, the Colliers broker. “It’s got a multi-million dollar infrastructure already in place and that’s desirable. But it really just depends on who’s interested.”

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