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DreamWorks Studio Stirs Rivalry of Civic Suitors : Hollywood: Mayor presses L.A.'s case. Burbank and Universal City also fervently woo new multimedia siren.

April 01, 1995|HENRY CHU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They popped the question last fall, starry-eyed suitors with competing offers of hearth and home.

They made flattering phone calls, wrote admiring letters, sent persuasive faxes. They pressed their individual claims over intimate lunches. Months later, they still jockey for favor, pouring on the charm as the object of their chase ponders a decision.

The attention is lavish--especially when the belle of the ball is actually a trio of middle-aged men, and those courting them include Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. But the royal treatment is not so surprising when the three elusive quarries turn out to be Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, whose new, highly touted multimedia venture, DreamWorks SKG, is looking to find a nice home and settle down.

Since the three entertainment moguls launched the company last October, cities such as Los Angeles and Burbank have shined their shoes and put their best foot forward to lure the nascent firm to settle within their borders.

The wooing has intensified in the last few weeks amid speculation that DreamWorks will soon choose a permanent site to set up shop. At stake is a potential payoff of thousands of jobs and bragging rights as the capital of the brave new world of interactive media, as well as increased prestige in the traditional arena of film and television.

The DreamWorks triumvirate is keeping quiet about location plans, preferring to keep even its own publicist in the dark as to details.

"I don't have answers on any of this stuff," said publicist Harry Clein of Clein & White in West Hollywood. "No one wants to sit down and talk about it until everything's totally final."

But that hasn't stopped the barrage of calls Clein receives daily, some from as far away as Philadelphia, Long Island and Florida, offering free land and other enticements to attract the Dream Team.

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Industry insiders say the trio will almost certainly locate in Southern California, already the hub of filming and numerous new-media companies. On the rumored short list are Los Angeles, Burbank and Universal City.

To press Los Angeles' suit as the perfect match, Riordan was on the phone within 24 hours of the Geffen-Spielberg-Katzenberg news conference Oct. 12, when their new company was born, but before it even had a name.

"The first day we heard about it, I called up David, Steven and Jeffrey and congratulated them," said Riordan, casually dropping the first names of three of Hollywood's most powerful players, whose combined net worth--more than $1.5 billion--exceeds the gross national product of Fiji.

Since that first call, Riordan said, he has met with each of the DreamWorks founders at least once and spoken to them by telephone several times. Lately, the mayor, who is also a multimillionaire, turned up the schmooze dial another notch.

On March 2, there was Riordan at the glittering American Film Institute tribute to Spielberg in Beverly Hills, working the room after dinner, smiling for the cameras with actress Kate Capshaw, Spielberg's wife.

The next day, Spielberg, the Oscar-winning director of "Schindler's List" and "Jurassic Park," and Riordan, the savvy ex-businessman who used Barbie as a pitchwoman in his mayoral campaign, had a tete-a-tete over lunch at DreamWorks' temporary headquarters, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment office on the MCA lot in Universal City.

And last Tuesday, the mayor met with Michael J. Montgomery, the point man on DreamWorks' finance team, over an egg-whites-only vegetarian omelet breakfast at Mort's Palisades Deli on the Westside, said Noelia Rodriguez, the mayor's press secretary.

Montgomery and the Riordan-organized L.A.'s Business Team have been in regular contact since the fall, discussing possible sites throughout the city.

The most discussed option thus far is the massive Playa Vista development near Marina del Rey, which the Dream Team members toured soon after announcing their partnership. Maguire Thomas Partners, the developers, have pushed the project as being ideal for entertainment firms, with 100 acres available, about the amount needed for an operation the size of DreamWorks.

(Coincidentally, Robert F. Maguire, managing partner of Maguire Thomas, bumped into Riordan and Montgomery at Mort's on Tuesday. "This is just like out of a Woody Allen film," the mayor reportedly said.)

Another, newer idea hatched by the city proposes a cluster of smaller sites near the Downtown Convention Center, said Steven MacDonald of L.A.'s Business Team. The abandoned General Motors plant in Van Nuys, though not a likely prospect, has also merited mention.

The business team has been busy crafting potential incentives that would accompany each site and assuring DreamWorks that the city can expedite an often-cumbersome development permit process. MacDonald, the team's deputy director, is available by beeper to answer questions 24 hours a day.

"The bottom line is we'll do what we can to get DreamWorks. We'll do anything to get them," MacDonald said.

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