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By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter Having failed to secure a single entertainment-industry tenant for its North Campus development, officials at Cal State Northridge are expanding their search to include more biotech firms. The university’s original plan called for dividing the 65-acre North Campus property between the biotechnology and entertainment industries and a new football stadium. But lack of interest by entertainment firms, coupled with the success of a major biotech tenant, has led the university to alter its strategy. Last year, CSUN reached an agreement with MiniMed Inc., a Sylmar-based biotech firm, to develop 28 acres of North Campus, a deal which is expected to bring in $800,000 for the university. MiniMed has been seeking to expand its project to encompass 40 acres. And late last week, the North Campus-University Park Development Corp. gave preliminary approval for Mann to develop those additional 12 acres. Because MiniMed occupied all the land originally allocated for biotech uses, the university turned away two other interested biotech firms, in hopes of attracting entertainment companies to the property. But a proposal to develop sound stages died from lack of interest, and preliminary talks with several entertainment entities failed to yield any agreements with the university. University officials have not yet given up on Tinseltown, but they no longer will turn away interested biotech firms, said Tom McCarron, executive director of the North Campus-University Park Development Corp. “If we’re not moving in a positive way one way, we’ll look the other,” McCarron said. “We’re opening everything up.” Some observers believe biotech holds far more potential. “There’s more and more reason to expand (biotechnology) beyond MiniMed, since there are no takers in entertainment,” said Ahmed Enany, executive director of the Southern California Biotechnology Council. “It makes economic sense.” Enany said he plans to meet with university officials in the coming weeks to sell the idea of a biotech business park that he believes could attract tenants from out of state as well as Los Angeles. Alfred E. Mann, MiniMed’s chief executive officer and president of the Southern California Biotechnology Council, also believes a biotech park would work well for the university, which is designing an academic program in biotechnology. The North Campus area is now home to a stadium, library annex and federally subsidized apartments. It has been targeted by the school for redevelopment as a way to increase partnerships with private industry and bring in more outside funding. University officials began talking about bringing entertainment firms to campus several years ago, when the College of Arts, Media and Communication joined with the business and extended learning colleges and formed the Entertainment Industry Institute, with the goals of getting internships for students and increasing private-public partnerships for the university. “Clearly, it would be a lot easier for students if the entertainment involved was a walk to North Campus instead of a drive across town,” said Phil Handler, dean of the College of Arts, Media and Communication. “We want to make this university the center of research for and about this industry.” McCarron said that whatever development is allowed must meet the university’s goals of establishing a strong public-private partnership that can also provide steady income with low risk and serve as an economic stimulus for the San Fernando Valley. In the cyclical business of entertainment, that could be difficult. Kathleen Milnes, vice president of public affairs for the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. of Los Angeles, said entertainment companies tend to be wary of such partnerships. “My experience is, studios wait for the market to provide (space),” Milnes said. “They’re wary if there is the expectation of pro bono public service.” For a studio or other entertainment company, a public partnership can end up costing more than expected. Milnes said most of the industry, especially post-production companies, runs on slim profit margins. Many work on 24-hour schedules to generate enough revenue to stay in business, Milnes said. And, the amount of work can be uneven from month to month. “It’s a bit of a risky business for a university to get involved with,” Milnes said. Six months ago, the university conducted talks with a firm owned by Walt Disney Co., but no development agreement was reached, said David Honda, a member of the North Campus Development Corp. Honda said he thinks the school still has a shot at attracting entertainment tenants, but its primary focus will be on attracting biotech firms. “Once you get an anchor tenant, like Alfred Mann, a lot of small companies feed of the energy,” Honda said. “CSUN may become the biotech hub of the San Fernando Valley.”

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