D’works is still in play on Playa

Katzenberg has his sights on studio site

Steven Spielberg may get his studio by the sea after all.

After threatening to pull out of the proposed Playa Vista development during a dispute with the Wall Street investment bankers who own it, Spielberg’s partner Jeffrey Katzenberg is renewing his efforts to bring DreamWorks to the site.

In a new round of negotiations last week — conducted over several telephone conversations between Katzenberg and Owen Thomas, managing director of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.’s real estate division — the two sides made “serious progress” and are “close to a deal.”

A source who asked not to be named said Katzenberg and Thomas spoke Thursday evening, “talking through the issues so that the deal can happen.”

But Andy Spahn, DreamWorks’ head of corporate affairs, cautioned Friday that there is “no deal yet.”

“I’ll believe it when it’s signed,” Spahn told Daily Variety. “We have given them our bottom line, and we hope they’ll agree to it. They know what’s required to bring us to Playa.”

He said nothing would be certain “unless and until we receive a signed deal memo.”

DreamWorks’ participation in the development on the former Hughes Aircraft factory site near Los Angeles Intl. Airport was announced in December 1995.

But the move was thrown into doubt by disagreements with developer Playa Capital Co., which took over the site last year after the original owners failed to capitalize the project.

Rather than let DreamWorks have exclusive control over the proposed studio lot — part of a much larger commercial and residential development — the new owners wanted Playa Capital to share the space, running some of its own soundstages for rental to production companies.

Katzenberg, Spielberg and partner David Geffen balked, saying they always intended to run their own shop and that sharing the backlot was out of the question.

The two sides also differed on cost of the land.

On Aug. 12, Katzenberg wrote a letter to Thomas and to Goldman, Sachs & Co.’s Daniel Neidich saying DreamWorks “has given all that it can give.”

The letter, a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum, said the owners’ “negotiating tactics were neither appreciated nor effective in moving the deal forward.”

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