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Small Voice, Big Plan

Suggestion that Universal City expansion be built downtown hasn't quite found its audience.

July 30, 1996|NONA YATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When MCA Inc. announced plans to double the size of its entertainment complex in Universal City, one small voice suggested that the show biz giant take its ideas over the hill to downtown Los Angeles.

Where MCA executives saw increased business opportunities, millions of tourist dollars and more jobs, Michael Wester and many of his neighbors near Universal City saw increased traffic, crime, noise and pollution.

So Wester countered with a grand plan of his own--complete with drawings and a detailed eight-page proposal--for MCA to leave his neighborhood alone and build its planned expansion in an area near the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Call it folly, but Wester insists that he is serious and that his plan is workable.

"The mix of uses that [MCA] is talking about building on top of the hill is a natural for downtown. There are two types of entertainment that MCA is interested in--retail, club-type entertainment and amusement-park type. Both can be downtown," said Wester, an architect who is on the board of the Cahuenga Pass Property Owners Assn.

MCA's property at Universal City includes Universal Studios, an 18-screen theater, CityWalk, Universal Amphitheater and hotels, office space and restaurants--in all, 5.4 million square feet of development.

To this the company wants to add, over the next 25 years, 5.9 million square feet of studio space, retail stores, restaurants, theaters and office and hotel space to create a 24-hour "destination resort."

Wester's plan for downtown, which he has dubbed "New Media Central," includes a regional entertainment, tourism and media technology center anchored by MCA's future development in the South Park area next to the Convention Center.

His schematic shows a park-like setting complete with an arena/stadium, Las Vegas-style themed resort hotels, a water park, walkways and offices.

More than a dozen components to New Media Central are laid out in Wester's proposal, including "Universal Studios: Take 2," a second or even third day of the popular Universal Studios Tour, a permanent multicultural bazaar, a theater district, television sound stages and an international telecommunications center.

The waterway would be a central focus that organizes and links the different areas, according to Wester.

"I remembered from an old plan the idea of a lake for the South Park area. I've taken the lake and made it more of a lagoon. [It] becomes an organizing matrix."

"MCA could focus a lot of activity on a water feature. They could take people around on the tour . . . [or] they could disappear into a building for a Jurassic Park-type ride" he said.

"The area along the watercourse itself could be the entertainment engine that CityWalk now is . . . you could have an overlapping of public and private areas."

Wester even incorporates L.A.'s mass transit network into his design.

"The Blue Line station itself becomes a very big element. It becomes a jumping off point for going to Universal. From there [visitors] could go to the 7th Street station, get on the Red Line and go directly to Universal," he said.

"The train could be a special train, a Universal train. The Metro Rail ride could be a themed ride. It could take people from downtown up [to Universal City] in about 10 minutes," Wester said.

Wester calls the Convention Center "one of the best" in the nation, but says it lacks supporting facilities such as restaurants and resort hotels.

"When we built the Convention Center, we built the center but forgot the facilities around it. Here we have an entertainment giant that wants to build. It seems silly not to build it where it will do the most good," he said.

Wester, who specializes in retail and entertainment projects, says his plan would result in better public/private development, boost tourism to Los Angeles, bring added revenue to the city and the Convention Center, benefit MCA, save the residential neighborhoods surrounding Universal and revitalize downtown. Not to mention increasing ridership on the MTA's rail lines.

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Wester's proposal doesn't just stop with MCA, however. With a major company as the draw, he can foresee other multimedia giants utilizing downtown facilities.

Following right behind would be smaller media entrepreneurs who could pool their resources and share new technologies, creating what he calls "a kind of multimedia Kinko's."

MCA doesn't seem ready to jump over the hill any time soon, however.

"While we're always interested in creative ideas, our focus is to build on the strengths of Universal City and the businesses that already exist on our own property," a company spokesman said.

Although Wester has met with a representative from the mayor's office, he knows he needs to do more research to convince everyone involved that this is more than just a pipe dream.

"[MCA] is not that interested. They can't see how it will benefit them at this point. And it's not their place to push this; they're not in the business to look out for the city of L.A. . . . Someone much more important than Michael Wester has to be able to say, 'Yes, this is worth looking into,' " Wester said.

"The things for this to happen are in place, it just takes someone [with some stature] to promote it."

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