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Move Over, King Kong : Studio Asks Neighbors What to Build Next--It’s Not Another Ape

Times Staff Writer

Move over, King Kong. The next attraction at Universal Studios may have a decidedly home-grown look.

Residents living near Universal City say they want the studios’ last major open space to become a quiet village instead of a glitzy Star Trek set or a make-believe Red Sea that parts.

Studio officials have asked residents of Studio City, Toluca Lake and other nearby areas what kind of project they think is suitable for an 80-acre hilltop next to the Universal Studios Tour site. The Studio City Residents Assn. said Universal is the first developer to seek its advice before designing a project.

“People seem to favor things like a bookstore, a sidewalk cafe where they can sit and watch the tourists, a newsstand,” Universal planner James A. Nelson said Tuesday. “They want an Irvine Ranch Market, more restaurants, a dinner theater, a place to dance, a library.”

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The hilltop area is used as a paved parking lot for the 4 million tourists who visit the studios each year.

Indoor Parking Structures

Officials of Universal’s MCA Development Co. plan to replace the lot with indoor parking structures. Then, they intend to develop the land as part of a 2-year expansion.

More than 1,600 neighbors have been polled about the project. Those who completed a lengthy multi-question survey were given free tickets to movies at Universal City’s Cineplex Odeon theaters.

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The survey was proposed by Nelson, a homeowner-activist hired by MCA to help improve the company’s relations with its neighbors.

Nelson is president of the Laurel Canyon Area Assn. and of the Laurel Canyon Coalition, a federation of hillside homeowner groups on the southern edge of the San Fernando Valley. He has been MCA’s project manager for the development since July.

Company officials began tallying the eight-page surveys last week. They anticipate 75% participation once the last completed form is returned.

The residents’ ideas carry an image of Westwood Village to MCA officials--something that has great appeal to them because of their 18-screen, 6,000-seat Cineplex Odeon.

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Moviegoers have grumbled that there are few places to eat before or after movies at the $16.5-million complex, which opened 18 months ago. Officials say the theaters attracted 2 million viewers their first year.

Lawrence D. Spungin, president of MCA Development Co., said village visitors could take up the slack when winter weather cuts Universal’s tour attendance.

“When 500 of the first 600 responses think a coffee shop is a good idea, that tells you something,” Spungin said. “They’re here 360 days a year. The tourists aren’t.”

Follow-Up Visits

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Spungin said the project will take shape on paper after all of the survey forms are tabulated by an outside firm early next year. After that, Nelson will pay follow-up visits to area homeowner groups to reveal the results and seek additional views.

Only when a final plan is drawn up and submitted to MCA’s senior management will the estimated construction price tag be known, he said.

According to Spungin, MCA views itself as a homeowner of sorts.

“This is where our corporate headquarters is. If we cause traffic problems or air quality problems, we suffer the most,” he said.

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The real homeowners have applauded Universal City’s neighborliness.

“This is absolutely the first time a major entity has come to the community first,” said Polly Ward, president of the Studio City Residents Assn.


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