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Harry Potter attraction coming to Universal Studios Hollywood

Published April 25, 2013 11:03 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

NBCUniversal on Tuesday cleared the final hurdle to its $1.6-billion expansion plan for Universal Studios Hollywood, and construction will begin late summer on the highly anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the 25-year NBCUniversal Evolution Plan, which not only includes adding Hogwarts Castle to the existing theme park, but building two hotels, a riverfront park and a bike path; upgrading movie and television studios with new sets, soundstages and technology; improving transit and surrounding freeways and streets; and expanding CityWalk.

"This is not the kind of project that comes before us every day, and it's not the kind of project that you could just turn your back on when it comes here," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, noting it is expected to boost tourism and the local entertainment industry, and create 30,000 jobs.

"That's a stimulus package if I ever heard of one," he added.

NBCUniversal chief real estate development and planning officer Corinne Verdery said expanding and upgrading the century-old Universal Studios Hollywood will be "a powerful economic engine."

"In total, the Evolution Plan will create $2 billion in economic activity during operations and $2.7 billion during construction; and create over 30,000 job during construction and operations," Verdery said.

"In the county alone, the project will bring a new hotel and, overall, generate $15 million in new revenues every year."

Verdery could not say when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the popular children's books by J.K. Rowling, will open at Universal Studios Hollywood but said it would be similar to the one that opened at the Universal Orlando resort in 2010.

The county's approval followed that of the city of Los Angeles in February. The nearly 400-acre property is shared by both jurisdictions.

During the seven years the expansion plan was under consideration and environmental review, it went through various changes — most recently the removal of 3,000 proposed housing units which several neighborhood organizations, City Councilman Tom LaBonge and Yaroslavsky had opposed in favor of alternatives that would boost movie and television production instead. Removing the residential component significantly lowered the cost of the project.

NBCUniversal also agreed to limit digital billboards; mitigate noise and glare from the theme park and backlot; and invest more than $100 million in transit, freeway and street improvements to ensure traffic flowed smoothly.

Not everyone's wish list was granted.

Fred Gaines, a attorney for several residents living adjacent to the backlot, said NBCUniversal refused their requests to limit filming activity.

"(These residents) have lived with helicopters, car chases, crashes, explosions, all hours of the day and night," he said. "There has to be some limitation on the number of days that this kind of activity takes place within 300 feet of their house."

But at the board meeting on Tuesday, a parade of entertainment industry union leaders and neighborhood council representatives spoke out in support of the project.

Ed Duffy, vice president of Teamsters Local 399, which represents casting directors, tour drivers and others in the entertainment industry, hoped the project would curb runaway production, the fleeing of movies and television shows from the region to cut costs.

"In these economically competitive times for the entertainment industry and our state, and the tremendous job losses we're suffering due to incentives offered by other states and countries, we're glad to see that (NBCUniversal) is pouring their investment dollars into an industry that employs so many of our members."

"(NBCUniversal) agreed to numerous qualify of life issues, such as noise, visual and traffic mitigation," added Lisa Sarkin, with the Studio City Neighborhood Council.

"The compromises have created a project to bring a world-class class vacation destination that the communities can live with."