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Sound Stage Idea Floated for Project

Could sound stages save the beleaguered Laurel Plaza/Valley Plaza Corridor project in North Hollywood? J.H. Snyder Co., a developer that was forced to reassess elaborate redevelopment plans of that East Valley neighborhood after the economic downturn began in 2008, thinks so. But nearby residents are cold to the plan unless it is accompanied by a significant amount of retail. “Through our research, we’ve discovered that the introduction of sound stages can have a significant catalytic effect on the surrounding community. This could create well over 1,000 jobs that would be directly associated with the development of sound stages, as well as secondary business activity, which is likely to develop in the surrounding area,” said Kacy Keys, Vice President and General Counsel at J.H. Snyder Co. In the beginning of 2010, J.H. Snyder made preliminary plans on this new concept for the redevelopment area including eight to ten sound stages with a separate commissary and office space. Although Snyder has no specific details or cost at the moment, Keys added the facilities would have ‘state of the art” features like “silent air” that cools down the stages without having to stop filming which wastes time and money for the production company. “We are a flexible company that tries to adapt, but our understanding of the market is that the commercial and television market continues to be strong and growing. We feel that niche is not being served and we would like to fill it. We did talk to experts in the field to see if it is viable, since we are not movie people. And, so far there have not been any objections so far from the major Valley movie and television studios,” Keys said. Snyder, a major player at the NoHo Commons redevelopment area along Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, also had big plans for the Laurel Plaza/Valley Plaza corridor, a 16-acre triangular piece of land that extends around Laurel Canyon and Victory boulevards near the Hollywood Freeway. Original plans Back in 2003, the original idea for re-development of the Corridor was a mixed-use proposal of retail and offices with housing across the street, hoping this would revitalize the community and create jobs. Snyder worked with the Los Angeles City Council District Office, Macy’s and a myriad of local agencies for five years to get approval for the project. At the end of 2008, when just about at that point, the country fell into the worst recession in decades. “When the economy tanked, we realized that moving forward on a big retail project did not make sense. We had no tenants, in fact they were disappearing fast, a complete reversal, and there was no credit available, so we had to put the project on hold,” Keys said. As the country faced the economic realities in early 2009 and the recession continued, Snyder started exploring other options for development. While checking these out, Snyder hit on the idea of building movie sound stages, which might fit the economic needs better than a huge retail shopping center. She reported that the community is generally supportive of their tentative plans for redevelopment of the Valley Plaza Corridor and the neighborhood council has shown an interest in providing input for the project. The plans will include a retail component and redesign of the Valley Plaza Park which is of special interest to the community and City Councilmember Paul Krekorian. “Of course, the main element would be the movie stages and the economic driver for the site,” Keys said. The model at the moment would be to lease the stages, but they are not wed to that idea, if a major studio wanted to buy it from them, they would be open to it. If the demand is there, they can do a project that works. “We are very excited about bringing sound stages to the Valley Plaza, but at the moment there is no timeline in place to start the project, but we hope to have some clarity and direction within the next few months,” Keys concluded. According to Diann Corral, President, Laurel Grove Neighborhood Association, her group has been desperately waiting for the rejuvenation of the Valley Plaza shopping center for a decade, but their vision is not quite the same as the developer’s. “While I understand that Snyder’s 2007 plans which include 732,485 square feet of retail are not viable in today’s economic climate, it is disheartening to hear that he is now basically offering retail that is less than the size of a grocery store,” Corral said. Change in plans When Snyder presented the association in September 2010 with the new movie sound stage concept, they were surprised to hear how the re-development plans had changed so dramatically. “It would not be a problem if he were including a decent amount of retail fronting on Laurel Canyon Blvd. and Victory Blvd. We are devastated to hear that Snyder has only tentatively 40,000 square feet of retail in his plans,” she said. The original Valley Plaza development was supposed to be 12 times the size of his NoHo Commons retail development. At 40,000 square feet compared to the NoHo Commons 60,000 square feet, they feel shortchanged. “The reason for the redevelopment of this area after the earthquake was to revitalize the Laurel Canyon Commercial Corridor. With only that small area of retail it would be a complete disservice to the community,” she pointed out. The association’s suggestion to Snyder was to place the studios in the back portion of the lot, and then a retail development can be positioned along Laurel Canyon and Victory Boulevards. They also advised him that a park site in the plans would need to be moved to a new location on the lot, so that it would be accessible to the community. Reconfiguring park “If the park was left in its current location it would cause blight to the neighborhood, be unusable and unsafe since his new plans include a wall along the park in order to prevent the public from wandering into the studios, “ Corral said. “If they reconfigure the park within the retail portion of the development it will not only soften the two boulevards, but also makes the park accessible for all the community.” For Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian, the Laurel and Valley Plazas are two of the top priority development projects in his district. “These potential developments, if done correctly, would significantly improve the region for years to come,” Krekorian said. “We want to make sure that whatever project is developed will be transformative for the neighborhood and an economic shot in the arm for the surrounding area. This area is an important part of the Valley and the businesses near there will be helped considerably by a good project, which is why I will continue to work closely with the community and the developer to ensure it is a win-win for the neighborhood.”

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