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Caruso’s company fights studio expansion near The Grove

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As a mayoral candidate, real estate developer Rick Caruso spoke about the need to keep entertainment productions in the city of Los Angeles.

But as a businessman, Caruso is embroiled in a fight over plans to modernize and expand LA’s famed CBS. tv city studios, located next to The Grove, the flagship retail complex that Caruso developed two decades ago.

In a letter to neighbors sent earlier this month, the Grove and adjacent Original Farmers Market expressed “deep concern” about the plan to overhaul Television City, calling it “a large-scale speculative development which, if it were endorsed, would overwhelm, disrupt and forever transform the community.” Both entities urged recipients to visit a website and social media accounts for the Beverly Fairfax Community Alliancea group that opposes the studio project – and counts the Grove among its members.

The development battle could complicate Caruso’s message as a businessman focused on bolstering the region’s economy. And it raises questions about how Caruso, if elected, would react to companies whose activities are potentially at odds with his company’s interests.

A campaign spokesperson declined to answer questions about whether Caruso’s namesake company had formed the Beverly Fairfax Community Alliance, referring questions to that organization. But Ilysha Buss, marketing director of AF Gilmore Co., owner of the Original Farmers Market, said her company and Caruso’s created the alliance and are funding it.

Buss, speaking on behalf of the alliance, said the group opposes the development plan in its current form because it would designate the Television City site as a “regional center”, which she called ” very out of scale and inappropriate for this area”. .”

An executive at Hackman Capital Partners, which bought the Television City site from CBS Corp. in 2018 and is looking to redevelop it, told The Times that his company had met several times with representatives of Caruso’s company to discuss the project. During these meetings, Caruso executives focused on the effect the project would have on Grove Drive, which serves as the entrance to the mall’s parking structure. and valet parking, according to Zach Sokoloff, senior vice president at Hackman Capital Partners.

Sokoloff said representatives of Caruso’s company had threatened to stoke community opposition to the proposal if Hackman Capital “did not capitulate to the demands they had for our proposed use of Grove Drive.”

“More recently,” he added, “their legal counsel made this threat directly to our legal counsel, suggesting that if we did not significantly limit our proposed use of Grove Drive, they would launch an aggressive public community campaign, activating hundreds of community members and sowing opposition to our studio modernization proposal.

Television City’s proposal, known as the TVC Specific Plan 2050, would see a major expansion of the site’s sound stages and production offices.

The site, located at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, would be licensed to have nearly 1.9 million square feet of studio, office and retail space, about 2½ times what currently exists, according to a draft report from ‘environmental impact. job by the city last month. The increase would allow the property to accommodate an additional 5,700 jobs, according to the report.

Sokoloff said the latest round of meetings between Hackman and the Caruso team began in April and included Caruso’s director of development, Corinne Verdery, who is expected to become her company’s chief executive on September 1. Caruso previously said Verdery would take over as CEO if elected mayor of Los Angeles; the new plan was relayed in an internal announcement on Friday, according to Jessica Wong, Caruso’s senior vice president for public relations and marketing.

Wong, in an email, denied allegations that Caruso’s team threatened to conduct a community campaign against Television City’s proposal. But she confirmed that the company is concerned about the project’s impacts – and has entered into “confidential settlement talks” with Hackman.

“We have not resolved the traffic, parking and construction impact issues, and to our knowledge, no other party issues have been resolved,” she said. “Part of the problem is that we really don’t know what the real project is because the [environmental impact report] does not have a detailed description of the project.

Last month, another Caruso executive appeared before a Mid City West Neighborhood Council panel and said the Television City project would create “complex” issues for the neighborhood, including traffic, parking and construction.

The Beverly Fairfax Community Alliance was more outspoken, warning that the expanded site would be twice the height of the Beverly Center and clog Fairfax, Beverly, La Brea Avenue and 3rd Street with traffic.

“Even those used to living with LA traffic and parking nightmares will be shocked at how much worse it can get,” the band said on its website.

The Beverly Fairfax alliance released last week a job offer on ZipRecruiter saying he hired organizers for “community outreach efforts,” with pay starting at $25 an hour. In a statement, the group said it was formed to “publicly raise and address significant concerns” about the impacts of Television City’s proposal.

When complete, the studio expansion is expected to generate an additional 787 vehicle trips during the morning rush hour and an additional 855 during the afternoon rush hour, according to project environmental documents. The property would offer up to 5,300 parking spaces.

Diana Plotkin, president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn., said she fears traffic could increase significantly, harming local businesses and residents, if the project proceeds as proposed. Plotkin said his group joined the alliance but did not contribute financially.

The Southern California film industry has faced a shortage of studio space in the face of growing demand. The shortage, among other factors, prompted some growers to look out of town, The Times reported.

Caruso was outspoken during his mayoral campaign about wanting to keep productions in Los Angeles.

“Instead of shipping the biggest industry we have in this town out of this town, I want to bring it back to this town,” Caruso said last week. in a podcast interview with Hollywood business newsletter The Ankler.

Asked about the Television City project, Caruso campaign spokesman Peter Ragone said the candidate supports building more studios in Los Angeles.

“However, we all need to be good neighbours. Both can happen,” Ragone said. “Rick believes that local businesses, including the production facilities, should address community concerns regarding the creation of additional traffic, pollution and other harmful impacts.

If elected mayor, Caruso would have the power to hire and fire the City Planning Department’s top executive. He would also have the power to replace the nine members of the city’s planning commission, a volunteer panel that reviews large-scale development projects.

Television City’s proposal may not go to the commission until next year, after the new mayor takes office.

Rep. Karen Bass, Caruso’s opponent in the Nov. 8 election, declined to take a position on the Television City project, saying through a spokeswoman that she was reviewing environmental documents. Bass spokeswoman Sarah Leonard Sheahan criticized Caruso for his past political donations to city officials.

“He made billions by influencing city hall decisions about his business. Now he’s trying to put himself in charge of those decisions as mayor,” Leonard said in a statement.

Caruso has made ending city hall corruption a key part of his civic platform. Asked how Caruso would avoid conflicts of interest as mayor, Ragone referred The Times to the candidate’s earlier comments about placing his business in a blind trust.

Times writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.