Universal reveals master plans

Major developments being pursued for studio lot

NBC Universal unveiled its master development plan for the 391-acre Universal lot on Wednesday and pledged to spend $3 billion on new construction, including 2,900 residential units, additional production and office facilities for the studio and improvements of its theme park and Universal CityWalk retail destination.

Dubbed the “Vision Plan,” the design template for long-term development of the largest remaining studio lot will now be submitted to L.A. city and county governments for approval — a process expected to take two to three years.

Among the major new developments being pursued:

  • Universal Village, a 124-acre residential development, which will include apartments, townhomes and condos, that will be built on the currently unused land on the lot nearest Barham Boulevard.

  • Universal City MTA Station, an office building and retail project to be built on the site of the MTA-owned transit hub on Lankershim Boulevard, adjacent to the lot. Thomas Properties Group would develop the site and NBC Universal would be the anchor tenant of the 650,000-square-foot project.

  • On the lot itself, construction of new and relocated outdoor sets, post-production facilities, soundstages, producer bungalows, office space, film vault and prop and costume shops.

  • Construction of a new four-lane public road through the lot roughly parallel to Barham Boulevard that would connect the residential development to the CityWalk and Universal Studios entrance on Cahuenga, as well as access improvements to the 101 and 134 freeways.

“Our announcement today represents a significant commitment to Los Angeles,” said Universal Studios prexy-chief operating officer Ron Meyer.

Initial economic studies project that, enacted in full, plan would create 11,000 new jobs and generate more than $4 billion in economic activity.

Past attempts to develop U’s lot have been met with opposition from area residents, who fear new apartments or shops will bring more traffic and noise to their neighborhoods.

In 1995, Seagram, which owned Universal at the time, sought to build a $3 billion tourist resort on the site modeled after U’s Orlando theme park. But that plan was abandoned in the face of community objections.

This time around, Universal has sought the political support of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was on hand at a press conference to announce the plan. He said U has been sensitive to those past concerns this time around.

“With a housing crisis, traffic congestion and an ever-growing population, this is the face of smart, responsible, environmentally friendly development for the future,” he said.

He added, “The community will be part of the process every step of the way. And I will personally hold NBC accountable to deliver on that commitment.”

Tom Smith, NBC Universal senior VP in charge of West Coast real estate, said the plan will now be subjected to public hearings and an environmental impact review; any possible construction, he added, is still a number of years off.

While NBC U would likely bring in an outside developer to construct the residential project, it has not decided whether it will sell or lease the land.

Plan is to split the 2,900 units into three villages that would be designed as walkable neighborhoods including a “town center” with 100,000 square feet of retail and dining space.

To handle the increased traffic, U has included a shuttle system that would connect Universal Village to CityWalk as well as the MTA Station. The “Great Street” through Universal Village would run south from Forest Lawn Drive to Coral Drive.

For the MTA Station project, Thomas Properties plans to first build a campus that would include 200,000 square feet of production facilities and 450,000 square feet of entertainment-related office space. U would be the anchor tenant in the project’s first phase of development. In the second phase, TPG plans to build an additional 400,000-square-foot office building with ground-floor retail space.

At CityWalk, the plan calls for a refreshed Studio Tour, landscaping improvements and pedestrian connections to the MTA Station. There is also room in the plans for a 500-room hotel and a 3,000-seat live entertainment venue that could replace the current Gibson Amphitheater.