87.5 F
San Fernando
Tuesday, Mar 5, 2024

City Bonds With Studios

When the first movie company settled in Burbank in 1926 the city had been incorporated only 15 years before and what became its media district was then open space of orchards and small dairies. First National Film Studios didn’t last long as an independent production company, being bought out by Warner Bros. that then made the move from Hollywood in 1928 and into the soundstages and offices in Burbank. So began not only the 80-year relationship between Burbank and Warner Bros. but in a larger sense between Burbank and the entertainment industry. Entertainment and media jobs account for 30 percent of the workforce, the highest of any industry. Many of those jobs are centered in the media district where Warner Bros., NBC, and The Walt Disney Co. have studios while others congregated on the north side of town. In between are the small businesses supporting the industry with costumes, props, special effects, floral arrangements, and catering. Warner Bros., for instance, saw its expenditures in Burbank rise from 7 percent to 15 percent over the past decade. The studio has 750 full time employees and another 2,200 production-related employees who live in the city. What these powerhouse entertainment companies bring is a sense of pride in their accomplishments, be it an Oscar for best picture or a record-setting weekend box office. “When a business succeeds the whole town succeeds,” said Mike Flad, a hometown boy who became assistant city manager and is in line for the top job come January. Beyond the jobs and revenues, the entertainment and media industry represent the second act in Burbank’s economic history. Former City Manager Bud Ovrom, now a deputy mayor in Los Angeles, doesn’t hesitate to say the industry was the saving grace for Burbank after Lockheed and the aerospace industry left the city. Over a five year period starting in the late 1980s, more than 20,000 jobs were gone. Few residents didn’t have a family member or friend who wasn’t somehow affected. The loss of the aerospace jobs set in motion aggressive actions on the part of city staff and the elected officials to do what was necessary to make the studios the new economic base. By establishing a trust with Disney, NBC and Warner Bros. that led to other well-known media brands like Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network to locate in the city as well, said Michael Hastings, a former city council member and mayor who served during that period. Blue collar to white collar The transition from aerospace to entertainment; from blue collar heavy industrial manufacturing to white collar office-type and performance-related work served to do three things, Ovrom explained. One, it would create more jobs than had been lost; would generate more revenues; and would be a cleaner industry, Ovrom said. Some building to accommodate the entertainment companies took place in the late 1980s, resulting in the towers used by the Disney Channel and others. A blueprint to guide growth in the media district came about through the Media Specific Plan, a six-year effort that both Hastings and Ovrom described as controversial among residents concerned just how big the studios would grow. The plan spelled out that the existing infrastructure could support new development and that development would kick in for a cost of any street, water and sewer improvements. In addition, a neighborhood protection program preserved the nature of the adjacent residential neighborhoods and minimizes traffic in those neighborhoods. The multi-year plan also gave assurances to the studios of the city’s commitment to allowing them to do business that could not be changed by a city council with a different attitude on development. “It was a guarantee that our word was our bond,” Hastings said. Multi-year pacts From the Media Specific Plan came multi-year development agreements with the big three studios on new construction on their properties. These pacts give flexibility to grow when they need to and not have to return to City Hall for approval for every project. Disney has practically built out the square footage allowed under its agreement. NBC didn’t build at all at its Alameda Avenue campus and that entitlement passed to developer M. David Paul, the new owner of the property. Warner Bros. has only built about 5 percent of what is allowed under its agreement and doesn’t have big plans to up its capacity, said Michael Walbrecht, vice president of studio and production affairs. Besides, the studio can look outside its walls for space. The adjacent Pinnacle Building, another M. David Paul project, houses offices for The CW, the television network in which Warner Bros. is half owner. The studio also recently signed a long-term lease in a nearby building. “There are other ways to fill the need and not have to build new,” Walbrecht said. With the city having found success in attracting entertainment and media companies keeping them becomes the next goal. Business models in the industry can change and city leaders should be meeting with corporate chiefs to know how to adapt to those changes, Hastings said. “The leadership needs to look to the future as well as having to maintain what is here now,” Hastings said.

Featured Articles

Related Articles