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L.A. County supervisors OK plan for Universal Studios expansion

The $1.6-billion proposal, including office and production space, a bike path along the L.A. River and a Harry Potter attraction, would bring 30,000 jobs and $15 million in annual tax revenue, officials say.

April 23, 2013|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • Visitors take a tram tour of the Hollywood back lot at Universal Studios. An earlier proposal had called for the development of thousands of homes on the back lot.
Visitors take a tram tour of the Hollywood back lot at Universal Studios.… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

After a bumpy 17-year process that once proposed developing thousands of homes on its famous Hollywood back lot, NBCUniversal won unanimous approval Tuesday from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for a plan that lets it expand its Universal Studios theme park.

The $1.6-billion project will include nearly 2 million square feet in office and production space, a bike path along the adjacent Los Angeles River that would eventually allow cyclists to pedal to Studio City, and a Harry Potter-themed attraction. Executives say that they will break ground this summer and estimate the work will bring 30,000 jobs and an extra $15 million in annual tax revenue to the county.

"In all my years, I've never had this kind of [positive] relationship with a developer," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was a critic of earlier NBCUniversal proposals.

Last year, NBCUniversal executives proposed building almost 3,000 housing units on land behind the theme park, which contains restaurants, rides and filming sets. The plan was opposed by Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who were concerned the housing would limit television and movie productions.

The "Back to the Future" films were shot at the site, as was the television show "Desperate Housewives."

Part of the park is in the county and part is in the city. The City Council approved the project's master plan earlier this year.

Company executives said they believe the "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," which will feature a re-creation of the Hogwarts Castle and other locations from the books and movies, will draw even more visitors to the park.

"This is going to be a huge attraction," Yaroslavsky said.

The latest plan was backed by a wide coalition of Hollywood homeowners, unions and environmentalists.

Lewis MacAdams, the president of Friends of the Los Angeles River, said the expansion would set an example for other companies to be environmentally sound and to listen to the concerns of homeowners and residents.

"It sets a very high bar," he said. "This is the way things are supposed to work."

The company also agreed to spend $100 million in transit and road improvements, including a new ramp and other upgrades to the 101 Freeway, and $14 million to connect and design parts of the Los Angeles River bike path and create other green space.

County lawyers are drafting final paperwork for the project that the board is expected to approve soon.

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