$12M spent on permanent space for new L.A. facility

by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

College officials announced the purchase of a $12 million vacant lot in Los Angeles last week.

The announcement, at Emerson's Eighth Annual LA Film Festival, comes after several years of plans to permanently house the 20-year-old Los Angeles Program.

College president Jacqueline Liebergott said in an e-mail message that the planned facility will help meet student demand for participation in the program, which she said exceeds the current location's capacity.,College officials announced the purchase of a $12 million vacant lot in Los Angeles last week.

The announcement, at Emerson's Eighth Annual LA Film Festival, comes after several years of plans to permanently house the 20-year-old Los Angeles Program.

College president Jacqueline Liebergott said in an e-mail message that the planned facility will help meet student demand for participation in the program, which she said exceeds the current location's capacity.

There are currently 95 seniors in Tinseltown with the new building allowing for at least 30 more to attend each cycle.

The program's new home, located at Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street in Hollywood, is a 37,244-square-foot parking lot known as "Lot B." It was sold by The Tribune Company as part of a group of properties to Miami-based real estate company Hudson Capital.

Hudson Capital then re-sold the lot to the college.

The location is several blocks from the 110 Freeway and around the corner from the historic Sunset Gower Studios, which formerly housed Columbia Pictures. Sunset Gower is now a commercial production house with 12 sound stages.

It is about 20 minutes from the program's current location and five minutes from Sunset Strip by car.

"City officials have made us feel at home in Hollywood," Liebergott wrote in the e-mail. "They are familiar with Emerson's accomplishments in revitalizing the Theatre District in Boston, and they are well aware of the impact of our alumni in Los Angeles."

Vice President of Public Affairs David Rosen said the school will take at least two years to design the building and obtain the necessary permits to begin construction, which he estimates should take less than two years.

He said the facility will fuse academics and housing and allow for more students to participate in the LA program during any given semester.

Rosen said a finite opening date has not yet been selected and that he is unsure how many more students the new apartments will hold because no design has been submitted yet.

Sarah Graziani, a senior currently at the program in LA, was at the film festival when Liebergott made the announcement.

The TV/Video production major said while she isn't unhappy living in the current Oakwood apartments, said she thinks an improvement is necessary. She said the current apartments can be loud and crowded.

"The Oakwoods aren't completely horrible," she wrote in an e-mail message. "It just doesn't feel like an environment that's most cohesive to learning, college, these types of things."

Liebergott said that the center will include academic facilities, faculty and administrative offices, housing, parking, space to accommodate alumni and College events and offices for Alumni and Admission staff.

"The students in LA have busy schedules between their internships and their night classes," Rosen said. "They will have the ability to live where they work right there and living will be a lot better. They'll maybe even have time to take a shower before going down to class in the same building. We think the students will be excited about the new location."

In a follow-up interview, Liebergott said tuition costs for the LA program are not expected to change with the acquisition of permanent space. However she could not say for sure until a design has been drawn up.

She said the purchase of the lot, however, will help counter the rising housing costs of renting a building in the area.

The LA program's participants currently work in a rented space in Burbank, which Rosen called "barely adequate in terms of space and equipment."

Those students enrolled in the semester-long program live at the nearby Oakwood Apartments, a 15-minute car ride from the Burbank center.

Emerson was the first East Coast college to establish an LA program and will be the first to own a permanent mixed use center, Liebergott wrote.

She added that three thousand Emerson alumni currently live and work in the Los Angeles area.

Rosen said school officials such as Liebergott and members of the Board of Trustees have flown back and forth from LA at least five times in the past three years looking at half a dozen neighborhoods and at least eight different lots before deciding to purchase the Hollywood space from Hudson Capital.

"It's better to own our own place," Rosen said. "There's only so much you can do with rented space and it's year to year so if the owners of the Oakland apartments wanted to go condo one year, we'd have to find a new place anyway."

Rosen said the purchase process had been kept under wraps until the announcement last week because college officials feared price raises if buyers discovered the school was seriously considering a certain property.

Rosen said the information remained confidential between the school, its brokers and its lawyers.

Senior Josie Campbell, currently in LA on the program, said she finds it strange that the college would choose to build a permanent campus in Hollywood when the focus of the program is to find students jobs away from the school.

She also said she thinks the decidely suburban Oakwood apartments, unlike a dormitory in the middle of a city, are liberating for students normally living amidst the Boston bustle.

"We don't have to worry about crime and city problems those future generations living in Hollywood will have to contend with," the theatre studies major wrote in an e-mail message. "In the new location, however, Emerson students will have to deal with the traffic nightmare which is downtown Hollywood, especially Sunset which is jampacked 24-7."

Even so, Campbell said she does support the building of a new classroom facility because she feels, like Graziani, that the Burbank facility is crowded.

Liebergott said over the next few years the school will work to develop a plan with staff at the LA program based around the size and specifics of the center.

Boston-based officials will also review the LA curriculum to assure the new facilities are designed to accommodate any changes the school may wish to make.

The Burbank center, a rented office with two classrooms, a computer lab and a student lounge, feels temporary to students, Graziani said. She also said the new location in the middle of Hollywood will be better for students interning with large entertainment studios.

"I definitely think that having a real home base for Emerson out here will make things feel a lot better," she said. "I think the new LA campus will be really awesome for maintaining the feel of the Emerson community out here."