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Show Business Should Mean More Business for Eager Merchants

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“I hope they’ll come in droves,” said Scott Beck, nodding his head toward the giant buildings in the lot just east of the tanning salon he manages. “We’d have them in and out in 15 to 20 minutes. They can come in on their lunch breaks.”

The muscular 33-year-old from Manhattan Beach is talking about the eagerly awaited 1,800 actors, make-up artists, production executives and other potential consumers who have begun to trickle into the offices, stages and dressing rooms at the newly opened, partially completed Manhattan Beach Studios.

The opening comes at a good time for Manhattan Beach, an upscale bedroom community of 33,000 whose economy was linked to the aerospace industry for years.

With the recent defense downturn, the city has been looking for ways to diversify its industry.

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The facility, which just finished its first week of business, is the first new film and television studio to be built from scratch in metropolitan Los Angeles in 50 years.

Beck is just one of hundreds of business owners and salesclerks in this beachside city of retail shops and restaurants who hope to benefit from studio employees armed with plenty of disposable income.

Karena Golumbie works at a clothing store a few miles from the studio, and though she must compete with closer, more convenient shops for studio dollars, she is optimistic. “We feel they’ll get here,” she said.

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The studio began as an idea scribbled on a restaurant napkin in 1996 by developer Ron Flesch of Studio City and architect Gary Bastien of Irvine.

And now, with five of 11 massive sound stages ready to go, six production office buildings completed, and an additional office building, parking structure and commissary planned for next year, the prospect of profiting from the venture has captivated the city.

“These people have no idea what’s coming,” said Paul Imerie, construction superintendent of the studio site. “It’s going to be huge.”

Patty Stearns, co-owner of a gourmet downtown cafe, is making plans. She is going to start faxing menus to the studio to advertise her catering services.

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“We’re hoping it’ll boost business,” she said.

Many residents also hope that the studio will provide hundreds of new jobs. But as the staff of television programs such as “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice” began moving in last week, it became apparent that most positions would be imported from Hollywood.

“We’re not the hirers of people,” said Flesch. “The shows are the ones who hire.”

And it’s tough to get into the film industry, he said.

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But entertainment revenues are so large, the money “will fall into the vendors, restaurants and service sector’s pockets,” he added.

Manhattan Beach Mayor Jack Cunningham agrees with that logic.

“The 1,800 people will have to shop and eat here every day. A lot of those people may want to relocate here.”

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It’s true that the studio brings an industry to Manhattan Beach that makes little noise and creates no soot. Still, some homeowners living in a nearby gated community called Manhattan Village aren’t sure the facility will be a dream neighbor.

“They’re monolithic and overpowering,” said homeowner Gene Mascetti of the studio’s buildings. “I knew they were going to be ugly. I’m fortunate enough to be on the complete other side of them.”

The studio lot is built against the eastern edge of the upscale housing tract, looming over backyard and frontyard views with nearly 50 feet of towering yellow concrete.

“It’s not such an eyesore,” said real estate agent and Village homeowner Phyllis Cohen-Edwards. “It’s like anything else. People will get used to it. It’s a nice color. It’ll blend into the skyline,” she said.

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Flesch said he made every effort to accommodate homeowners’ wishes throughout planning and construction.

“If you don’t deal with your neighbors, you don’t do business,” said Flesch. “We made sure that several meetings were held to inform the public about the project, down to the types of trees that would be planted to provide a barrier between the two lots.”

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Still, you can’t satisfy everybody.

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“I never had a choice. No one asked me whether I wanted it,” said Mascetti.

Even the studio’s new tenants are a bit unsettled.

“We were very happy in Hollywood,” said Pamela Wisne, executive vice president of David E. Kelley Productions.

“It was a traditional location with the traditional vendors nearby.” But, she added, “although we have very short lunch hours, I think there is going to be a positive effect on Manhattan Beach.”

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