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William Morris Not Moving Far

The talent agency will relocate to eco-friendly offices just up the block in Beverly Hills.

October 21, 2006|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

The storied William Morris Agency Inc. said Friday that it would move to a new ecologically conscious building, making it the third major talent agency this year with plans to relocate from its longtime digs on the industry's unofficial talent row.

Unlike rivals International Creative Management Inc. and Creative Artists Agency Inc., both of which will move to Century City next year, William Morris is not making an exodus from Beverly Hills. The 108-year-old agency plans to move just up the block from its two-building complex on William Morris Place.

For decades, the entertainment industry's agencies have made their homes just off Wilshire Boulevard. Crammed between Santa Monica Boulevard and Robertson Boulevard to the east are CAA, Endeavor Agency, United Talent Agency Inc., William Morris, Gersh Agency and ICM.

William Morris' new offices, being built by a New York developer, will be near Wilshire. Scheduled to be completed in 2009, the six-story, 201,000-square-foot building will be certified as a green office building, complete with carbon neutral air, recyclable building materials, solar devices and low-flow toilets.

"We think it's a good statement first and foremost for the people who work here, and certainly our clients, and also as good corporate citizens," said Jim Wiatt, the agency's chief executive. The longtime agent said that his staff of more than 400 had outgrown its current home.

The decision to go green was partly personal for Wiatt, who drives a limited edition Saturn hybrid sport utility vehicle and whose wife, Elizabeth, is an environmental activist who serves on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But William Morris is not the first talent shop to go green. CAA will move into a new building at year-end that has many ecologically minded trappings. In part, the move may be a necessity as more and more Prius-driving clients take their agency's green credentials into consideration.

William Morris has marquee clients including movie stars such as John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson and corporations such as General Motors Corp. and Anheuser-Busch Cos.

The agency has grown in recent years by taking on different kinds of business, such as social networking site MySpace and sports stars such as golfer Michelle Wie.

Wiatt said having all his agents under one roof would make recent changes in the entertainment business easier to accommodate.

With movie stars now making music and TV celebrities writing scripts, teams of agents now attend to their needs. Currently, William Morris agents in the motion picture and television departments must walk across the street to see their colleagues in the music, sports and commercial divisions.

"The idea of being in different buildings has always been a complicated situation," Wiatt said. "We have all this technology to stay connected, but we felt an urgent need to be in one building."

William Morris began talks last November with developer George Comfort & Sons Inc. and architectural firm Gensler. Comfort owns the land just north of Wilshire Boulevard where the agency's offices will be built.

Like the other agencies, Wiatt said, William Morris had considered moving to Century City but decided to stay in the snug environs that served as its home for 70 years. And besides, who wants to give up that preciously short walk to power lunch spots such as the Grill on the Alley?

"We feel very comfortable here," Wiatt said. "It's great to be in an environment where you can walk out of your office and see people, go to restaurants and, you know, have a life."

The city of Beverly Hills was eager to hold on to the high-profile tenant, particularly after the defections of ICM and CAA.

Beverly Hills Mayor Steve Webb said that as soon as he got wind of William Morris' restlessness, his office began discussions with the agency and offered to help expedite a development project.

"Beverly Hills has always been the capital of the entertainment industry, and we want to preserve that relationship," Webb said.

Construction of the William Morris building is likely to start by the end of the year, after the demolition of a parking garage on the site. William Morris is rare among its competitors because rather than leasing it has owned its offices, which gives it more financial security.

But soon, it too will become a tenant. Gary Weiss, a principal broker with Madison Partners, said the agency would probably pay a hefty rent -- an average cost for a rental that size in Beverly Hills is $10 million a year. But he says that's still a good deal.

"Large tenants have less options because there aren't a lot of places to go," Weiss said. "The William Morris Agency probably had very little choice -- there's very few places that you can go when you are that size."

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claire.hoffman@latimes.com

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