Fox Inc. announced plans Monday to move the company's KTTV television station operation from Hollywood to the historic 20th Century Fox studio in Century City as part of a $200-million renovation and expansion of the property, which had previously been targeted for condominium development.
The turnabout reflects an effort to build a state-of-the art film and television production company in one place, Fox Chairman Barry Diller said in a telephone interview.
It also is a major departure from previous plans for the 54-acre studio, whose standing movie sets can be seen from its entrance at Motor Avenue and Pico Boulevard, just west of Avenue of the Stars.
In 1981, Fox, under different ownership, agreed to a city zoning plan that would have permitted the development of 2,200 condominium units. The studio would have been razed and production moved elsewhere, probably outside Los Angeles.
The studio and its parent company, Fox Inc., are owned by publishing baron Rupert Murdoch, whose company, News Corp. Ltd., bought Fox in 1985.
Diller said dismantling the studio would be a shortsighted decision, one reflecting a narrow, old-fashioned view of film-making as a process involving "four covered walls in a thing called a sound stage." Technological advancements, particularly in editing and sound, call for consolidating the television and movie functions on one site, he said.
To build the facility that Diller envisions, Fox proposes the addition of 800,000 square feet of production, stage and office facilities to the 1.1 million square feet already there. Diller said the new construction would be "low-rise and low-density in character."
A Los Angeles zoning change would be necessary, but Diller predicted that city officials and the studio's neighbors would find the studio expansion "eminently more desired" than condominiums. "I can't conceive of it the other way around. I'd be surprised that anyone would say there would be a desire for more Westside housing."
City officials and vocal area homeowner organizations are likely, however, to view the switch in plans with skepticism.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the Century City area, said Monday that the plan outlined by Diller was "worth considering. But it's worth considering with a critical eye."
Yaroslavsky said 20th Century Fox "is a major factor in what makes L.A. the entertainment capital of the world. . . . We'd like them to stay. But it has to be on terms acceptable to the city and to their neighbors."
In 1981, Yaroslavsky backed the condominium plan as a good way to break up the sprawl of Century City with less-dense residential uses, as did local residents who were suffering from traffic congestion. (Century City itself was developed in the 1960s on what had been the studio back lot.)
Initial reaction from homeowner groups was mixed Monday, in part because of a lack of detailed information.
"I think there will be a great deal of neighborhood opposition," said Dick Harmetz, a former board member of the Tract 7260 Assn., a nearby homeowners group.
Others in his association who had participated in a preliminary meeting with Fox, however, were more upbeat about the prospects.
"I think a low-rise studio complex is a lot better than high-rise condominiums," if the traffic impact is as Fox states it, said John French, founding president of the Tract 7260 group.
Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, said, "The answer from our community will be a resounding 'No way!' "
Century City development over the past decade, she said, was predicated on eventually replacing the Fox studio with condominiums, which generate less traffic than commercial developments.
"The last thing we need is another office building," Lake said.
According to a Fox study, the condominium development would have generated about 16,000 daily automobile trips, while the expanded studio will generate 14,800 trips. Relocating the television station adds 210 to the studio work force, which is now about 1,800.
Diller said that relocation of the studio outside the city remains a possibility if the renovation plans are thwarted.
"We have concluded . . . that we will be able to remain at this location only if our current facilities may be rehabilitated and new facilities constructed to provide the flexibility necessary to remain competitive," he said.
Not going forward with the condominium development means shelving a controversial plan to extend Century Park West from Olympic Boulevard to Pico Boulevard, Diller said.