Developers are in a rush to snatch up land and make their fortunes building studio soundstages.

The latest project: 16 soundstages, built on an auto wrecking yard in Sun Valley.

Aadlen Bros. Auto Wrecking, a fixture in the area for the past 35 years, plans to turn the bulk of its 27 acres of property into a new studio facility, although the company so far declines to name investors or an architect.

The project nevertheless underscores the demand for studio space, with producers forced to shoot in aircraft hangars and warehouses, because traditional studio lots are full. A recent survey of soundstage space by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. found that 4 million square feet of stages would be booked through 1997.

TV production growth

The building boom is fueled by an increase in production, particularly in television, and developers have looked beyond the core areas of Burbank, Hollywood and Culver City to construct their stages.

In addition to expansion plans at Universal, Disney, CBS Studio Center, Warner Bros. and NBC, proposals are on the drawing boards to build a studio facility in Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach. A former Hughes Aircraft Co. site in Playa Vista already is booked, with plans to build the new DreamWorks Studios still up in the air.

Plans are afoot to build a soundstage even in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, next to a former Unocal building that already is used for location filming. Companies for years have used warehouses on the east side of Downtown for filming.

Naturally, there are words of caution, given the experience Southern California had in the 1980s, when developers rushed to build offices and industrial parks for the booming aerospace industry.

“There are so many other people looking to do something (in this area),” said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “Right now, it is very exciting to think you can own your own studio. What you are going to see is another gold rush of people getting in, building the stages, and two years later, there may be a glut.”

Many in the industry see a contraction of product, studios such as Disney cut back in production last year, but such a reduction wouldn’t have the devastating impact that hit aerospace.

Nevertheless, there is the race to build. Manhattan Beach Studios, financed by Roy Disney’s Shamrock Holdings, is slated to be up and running in time for taping and filming of TV shows for the fall of 1998. Aadlen Bros.’ Jerry Martinez said that plans are to complete the first stages by the end of 1997.

Better than wrecking

“We have been in the auto wrecking business forever, and this seems like a great venture to jump onto,” Martinez said. “The land is here. The only thing they need to do is clear the vehicles that are there now. Basically it is a large parking lot.”

The site, at 11590 Tuxford St. in Sun Valley, will be leased to the unnamed investors, who would then book the space.

Developers would have to secure necessary permits from the city, in addition to environmental clearances.

And although investors are still wary of financing non-traditional real estate projects, there are always less glamorous uses for stages if the market drops, like turning them into a storage yard.

Said Kyser: “That would be a nice fallback.”

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