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CAA Moving to Complex Being Built on ABC Site

March 16, 2004|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

CAA is claiming ABC's old turf.

Creative Artists Agency plans to move to Century City from Beverly Hills under a lease valued at more than $150 million that will allow developers to start building an office complex on the site of the vacant ABC Entertainment Center.

Developer Trammell Crow Co. said Monday that demolition of the 32-year-old entertainment center -- once home to the Shubert Theatre -- would begin next month to make way for a $275-million office and retail project called 2000 Avenue of the Stars.

Since 1989, CAA has occupied a splashy I.M. Pei-designed building at Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards. The 65,000-square-foot property and a smaller building next door are owned by former CAA founding partners Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyer and Bill Haber.

CAA's current lease will expire at about the same time the new office complex is completed in late 2006, according to real estate broker Gary Weiss of Madison Partners, who represents CAA. The firm, one of Hollywood's most powerful talent agencies, will occupy 180,000 square feet at 2000 Avenue of the Stars.

The new 15-year lease, expected to cost CAA $150 million to $160 million, probably will be one of the biggest inked in the Southland this year.

Designed by architects at architectural and planning firm Gensler, the 790,000-square-foot project in Century City will consist of a 12-story office tower, a high-end restaurant, several cafes, a cultural exhibition center and a 3.75-acre landscaped park.

The ABC Entertainment Center, once home to the network's West Coast headquarters, was considered a top-drawer development when it opened in 1972. It included the 2,100-seat Shubert Theatre for live performances, movie theaters, restaurants and almost 235,000 square feet of office space in two six-story towers. Among its tenants were the Playboy Club and Harry's Bar & American Grill, which sponsored a popular annual contest to write parodies of novelist Ernest Hemingway's prose.

The center's buildings with their large floor plans are obsolete, said Trammell Crow Principal Brad Cox. Pedestrian traffic didn't circulate properly through the retail areas, he said, and "the plaza was also very pedestrian-unfriendly with hard surfaces that created glare and reflections."

Trammell Crow executives had considered ways to improve the out-of-date complex, but the cost of needed upgrades such as structural improvements, asbestos abatement and compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act made improvements financially unfeasible, they said.

Moreover, the privately owned Shubert was at a disadvantage in competing with subsidized theaters such as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, said Cox. It also ate up a lot of space on the site that could have been more profitably rented as offices.

"It boiled down to a real estate decision and not a theater decision," said Lawrence O'Connor, Shubert's general manager during the 1990s. "That theater was a centerpiece of the best American theater had to offer."

Shows staged there included "Beauty and the Beast," "A Chorus Line," "Evita" "Cats" and "Les Miserables." O'Connor said that "the seminal productions that came out of American theater had a home at the Shubert."

The theater closed in January 2002, and the rest of the property has been empty since October.

CAA's commitment to fill a quarter of the office space in the new building enabled Trammell Crow to start work on the long-anticipated project.

"Landing CAA is a real coup for Century City and for Los Angeles," said City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the district. "It means Century City can lay claim to a fair portion of the title of entertainment capital of the region."

Both the new development and the twin 44-story Century Plaza Towers across a courtyard to the east are owned by a consortium of investors advised by JPMorgan Fleming Asset Management that includes General Motors Corp.'s pension trust. Dallas-based Trammell Crow will develop and lease the new building for its owners.

A CAA representative confirmed that it had signed a lease at 2000 Avenue of the Stars. CAA's 590 employees reportedly occupy more than 110,000 square feet at its 9830 Wilshire Blvd. headquarters, the building next door and another building across the street.

The building owned by CAA's former managers is a dramatic property in a prime location that should be attractive to another tenant, said real estate broker Weiss. The owners' biggest challenge will be to find a tenant large enough to fill the building, because its design doesn't lend itself to multi-tenant use.

Century City's office vacancy rate is about 17.5%, Weiss said. Rents are among the highest in the region at an average of $2.94 per square foot per month.

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