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Location, Location, Sensational! : Business: The entertainment industry is steadily succumbing to the lure of seaside offices. 'It's the perfect fit' for our employees, says one movie executive.

April 11, 1993|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA — Writers of the television series "Northern Exposure" conjure up their tales of frigid Alaska winters from the sunny Santa Monica shores.

For the past three years, the series' creators, Joshua Brand and John Falsey, have run their television production empire from an Olympic Boulevard complex that is also home to George Lucas' Skywalker Sound Labs.

No daily treks to Universal City for Brand and Falsey, who along with most of their employees are Westsiders reveling in the luxury of working close to home.

"We like the quality of life," said "Northern Exposure" supervising producer Cheryl Bloch. "If we want to go running at lunch, it's nice and breezy. If someone wants to pick up their children at school they can. Less driving takes the stress out of working."

Those Northern Exposure folks may be on to something.

Santa Monica is experiencing a mini-entertainment boom that civic boosters hope will eventually garner the city a reputation as Hollywood by the Sea. If all goes well, they reason, the city could emerge as the newest trendy place for industry types put off by the real Hollywood's grunge or by Burbank's weather.

"I think there will be a satellite effect," said Dave Paradis, executive director of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. "There's a tendency to want to move your business where your friends are."

Part of the buzz around town includes news that individual stars such as Johnny Carson and director Oliver Stone have offices above Arnold Schwarzenegger's restaurant on Main Street.

But the key to the boomlet is three major entertainment companies or associations that have moved--or are about to move--to the east side of town, bringing jobs and show biz pizazz in equal measure.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer film studio has moved into Colorado Place, which is going to be renamed MGM Plaza in its honor. The West Coast headquarters of Sony Music is nearby at the Arboretum.

Finally, the Grammys--the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences--will move in June into a building at 34th Street and Pico Boulevard now undergoing renovation.

The heads of all three were guests of honor at a recent Chamber of Commerce luncheon, telling an audience of 300 that they wound up in Santa Monica by the process of elimination.

"Santa Monica was not our immediate choice," admitted Don Burkhimer, Sony senior vice president.

Burkhimer said Sony looked in Century City and West Hollywood but was looking for a "campus-like atmosphere" with lots of light, greenery and fresh air to inspire the creative types who work for him.

"With our vision in place, we began to look farther west--to Santa Monica," he said.

Dennis Stanfill, chief executive officer of MGM, also outlined an exhaustive selection process in which Burbank, Century City and Beverly Hills were passed over in favor of Santa Monica: "the perfect fit . . . for our 600 employees."

The president of the recording academy, Michael Greene, joked about his miscalculation of buying a house in Glendale after moving to the West Coast from Atlanta.

"Obviously, no one I ever wanted to spend any time with lived in Glendale," he said, in mock horror.

Air quality, accessibility, a sense of community and shared values were part of the draw of Santa Monica, the executives said. But, especially, they praised the city's schools--and their access to them.

"You welcome our employees' children in your excellent schools," Stanfill said.

Though no one mentioned it, the chamber's Paradis said Los Angeles' troubled school system, financial woes and crime problems have to make Santa Monica look more inviting by comparison.

"Safety and unease about Los Angeles has to be on people's mind to a growing degree," Paradis said. "You're going to move to an area where your secretaries want to go."

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