NBC Universal has tapped developer Thomas Properties Group and architect Rios Clementi Hale Studios to create a master plan for future construction at the 400-acre Universal City property.
The “vision plan,” which will take four to six months to formulate, will evaluate the feasibility of additions to the mostly undeveloped backlot area, including housing, office, retail and production facilities. The plan — which will require county and city approvals — also will analyze needs of the existing studio lot, theme park, CityWalk, hotels and office buildings.
Universal City contains one of the largest tracts of prime undeveloped property in the Los Angeles area, but U officials were careful to couch Wednesday’s announcement as exploratory and emphasized there are no plans in the works to push for building another resort-type property.
A decade ago, U had aggressively pursued approval of a plan to build out the property via a second theme park, hotels, offices and production space. However, it put those plans into deep freeze in 1998 amid neighborhood concerns over increased noise and traffic.
“Universal City plays an important role in our company and in Los Angeles,” said U Studios topper Ron Meyer in a statement. “Now is the time to shape a vision not only for the continued vitality of our studio and theme park businesses but for the property itself.”
Universal Studios rep Cindy Gardner said the study is especially timely in order to evaluate changing business conditions. Earlier this year, as part of what was then termed a “needs-assessment phase,” studio parent General Electric hired consultants to explore the feasibility of selling part of the real estate for condo construction.
James Thomas, head of Thomas Properties Group, has been involved in the development of Playa Vista and downtown projects including the Library Tower, the Gas Company Tower, the Wells Fargo Plaza and City National Plaza.
Universal promised it would keep residents in nearby communities apprised. Polly Ward, president of the Studio City Residents Assn., told Daily Variety that Universal has been attentive to concerns of residents, but expressed concern over GE, which has owned U for less than two years.
“Universal’s done a good job of mitigating noise and traffic, but GE’s an unknown factor,” she said. “I don’t think that all that property can continue being unused, but it needs to be used responsibly.”
CityWalk, which opened in 1993 and expanded seven years later, was the last major project undertaken at Universal.