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Matthew Poyer keeps crowds moving at Universal CityWalk

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The gig: Matthew Poyer, 52, vice president of operations at Universal CityWalk, oversees what Universal Studios calls the nation's first "outdoor urban entertainment center." It's a quarter-mile-long outdoor mall with 63 tenants. About 2,000 people work there.

When it opened in 1993, it predated other outdoor venues like the Grove in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles and Downtown Disney adjacent to Disneyland in Anaheim.

CityWalk was designed under the guidance of architect Jon Jerde and was envisioned as a retail district linking the theme park and its parking structures. With its newly upgraded music stage and 19-screen movie theater, it has also become a popular nighttime destination for locals.

The wurst job: Poyer began working at Universal Studios when he was 16, selling hot dogs to the tourists who took the Studio Tour and watched the movie-themed shows at the movie studio lot. He worked near the former Prop Plaza, a midway point for the Studio Tour where tourists could get up close to props from recent movies.

He didn't envision the hot dog job as a career. "I just wanted to make a few bucks, make some gas money," he said.

But he stayed and worked his way up to warehouse manager, director of parking, vice president of attractions and finally vice president of operations at CityWalk in 2007. Poyer said his rise at Universal was assisted by his institutional knowledge, developed over 36 years with the company.

"I've been part of CityWalk even before it was built," he said.

Crowd control: As operations chief, Poyer's biggest challenge is managing the flow of people at CityWalk. The retail and dining district draws more than 10 million people a year.

Poyer is accustomed to crowds. He comes from a large Roman Catholic family of seven boys and seven girls. "Being around large groups of people is second nature to me," he joked.

Busy days: His aptitude with throngs comes in handy on his most challenging days. In April, the 5 Towers stage at CityWalk hosted the top 12 finalists from NBC's singing competition show "The Voice," followed the next day with a concert by R&B singer Jason Derulo.

Each event drew thousands of people, in addition to the regular CityWalk multitudes. On those days, Poyer said, he tried to implement a crowd-control plan to ensure a smooth flow of visitors.

He also spends lots of time on the ground, directing his crew on cellphones and two-way radios to move barricades and avoid congestion. "It's a bit of a balancing act, but we make it work," he said.

Keep on truckin': Poyer's connection to Universal Studios goes back nearly 100 years, when his great grandfather, D.F. Poyer, operated a truck manufacturing company. As a promotional stunt, Poyer's grandfather drove a Poyer truck from Michigan to Los Angeles. The cross-country trek ended at Universal Studios.

More family ties: When Poyer was growing up in Encino, three of his older brothers and a younger sister also held part-time jobs at Universal Studios.

"It's been a good place to work," he said.

It also played a big role in his life. Poyer met his wife, Kathy, at Universal Studios when he was 22. She also sold food there. They have been married 27 years.

Their oldest son, Christopher, 24, works at a retro-style candy and toy shop on CityWalk. That is where Christopher Poyer met his fiancee. They plan to get married this summer (but not at CityWalk).

"As you get older, it seems the connections get closer and closer," Matthew Poyer said.

New tenants: CityWalk is home to a mix of restaurants, retail outlets and entertainment venues, including a bowling alley and an indoor sky-diving business.

Every year, the leases for at least one or two tenants come up for renewal, Poyer said. When that happens, he must consider what type of new tenants to bring in.

B.B. King's Blues Club was replaced in 2009 by the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club. The Sam Goody record store went out of business in 2006 and was replaced by a candy shop called It'Sugar.

"We always check with what is trending in retail and food," he said. "We put that against what [CityWalk] may need."

5 Towers: Under Poyer's watch, CityWalk launched its latest expansion, the addition in 2011 of an outdoor music stage dubbed 5 Towers, named for the light towers around the stage.

The stage has played host to a series of free concerts and performances meant to draw locals to CityWalk and encourage theme park visitors to stay longer. The stage is an example, Poyer said, of the way CityWalk tries to keep the destination "fresh and new.... We thought it was a great opportunity to take CityWalk to a new level."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Twitter: @hugomartin

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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