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A Sound Plan for Downtown L.A.

Real estate: Developer has filed permits to build sound stages in area around the old Unocal headquarters.


Growth of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles continues to transform warehouse districts and vacant buildings. Now, a developer is hoping to bring some of those changes to downtown L.A.

Los Angeles-based Smith & Hricik Development Co. has filed permit applications to develop the area around the former Unocal Corp. headquarters on 5th Street, just west of the Harbor Freeway, into sound stages. The plan calls for the 40-year-old, 14-story Unocal building to remain intact. That building, vacant since Unocal moved to El Segundo in 1995, already is being used occasionally for filming.

According to plans filed with the Los Angeles Planning Commission, four smaller offices and a gas station on the 10-acre parcel would be razed in order to build 108,000 square feet of sound stage space, along with separate buildings totaling 18,630 square feet to be used for set construction and storage.

Smith & Hricik partner Steven Smith, who is listed as the owner in escrow of the property, declined to comment. A public hearing on the proposal is set for Oct. 6.

Several uses previously proposed for the property--including as a sports stadium--had fallen through. The current proposal states that the property has been in limbo as "available capital for investment and financing of new buildings has declined precipitously in downtown Los Angeles."

The downtown area has made efforts to attract the entertainment industry over the last few years, but has been passed over in favor of communities such as Culver City and Glendale. Still, downtown Los Angeles is a busy area for location filming, with empty warehouses and office buildings functioning as stages.

Los Angeles currently has 325 sound stages, with nearly 4 million square feet of space. That space--especially large stages with ceilings 40 to 60 feet high, like the ones proposed at the former Unocal site--is in high demand for feature, commercial and interactive work.

Manhattan Beach is expected to add 285,000 square feet of sound stage space by the fall of 1998, in a project backed by Roy Disney on 22 acres of former TRW-owned land. A representative for Disney's Shamrock Holdings said groundbreaking was expected by the end of this month, about 10 months after the project was announced.

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