Will the Film Industry Kill the Downtown Rennaissance?

I love downtowns in general, and L.A. is no exception. I spend tons of time there, and the revitalization of L.A.’s historic core excites me to no end. However, I don’t know how the city thinks it’s going to support a fully realized downtown revival if they continue to shut down half the streets and parking every weekend to facilitate film production. As an example, I’ve been going to Lost Souls pretty frequently since it opened, but every Sunday when I get there the parking situation is more and more ridiculous. Today, production on the popular series House had taken over at least three square blocks smack in the center of the financial district, which itself is the center of much of the most completed revitalization efforts. After fighting traffic and a lack of parking, I came back home to eat, and followed up with coffee in Silverlake. Goodbye downtown dollars.

I know that film is an integral part of our economy (though last time I looked into it I discovered that aerospace was actually SoCal’s largest industry). But for downtown to be a fully functional community people have to be able to live and visit there 7 days a week, 24 hours a day without consistent, major hassles. Occasional gaffes and interruptions are to be expected, but if a recent story in LA Downtown News (which unfortunately I can’t find online) is any indication, conflicts between residents and production needs are shaping up to be a serious hurdle to a downtown that’s actually useable and livable. And the film industry, used to years of working in an area that was mostly abandoned after hours and on weekends, doesn’t show a lot of enthusiasm for making changes. Hopefully some of that $12 billion being funneled into the city center is earmarked for some huge, multi-story parking lots. But that’s only part of a larger problem, and personally I don’t even know where to begin addressing the rest.

UPDATE: Here’s the Downtown News article to which I was referring, and here’s another one that refers to the same problem (scroll down to the section header “Lights, Camera, Cut!”).

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11 Replies to “Will the Film Industry Kill the Downtown Rennaissance?”

  1. I’ve always thought that there was a mitigating circumstance to make the filming worth it to the city. For example, if shutting down a full lane of Wilshire during rush hour to allowing the filming of an exterior paid hundreds of thousands to the city in permits, etc. But I bet the City of LA is granting gratis or reduced licensenes to production companies so they don’t just hop on a plane and go to Vancouver. So does that mean denziens get bothered and the city takes a loss to let production companies do so? That sounds like a lose lose proposition to me.

  2. I don’t mean to be harsh, but your post seems a bit like moving to the beach and complaining about the tourists and lack of parking — or moving near LAX and complaining about the planes. It’s downtown — they’ve been shooting movies there for decades.

  3. the last thing downtown needs is huge multi-story parking lots. the red line, blue line, and gold line all reach straight into the heart of downtown. leave your cars out in the suburbs.

    and, having lived downtown for over two years now, i have to say that the impact of filming varies considerably from block to block, and this past weekend was a rare confluence of shoots.

    i was out of town, unfortunately, but my girlfriend celia (whose loft they are shooting house in) reported that she saw more downtown residents out and about on friday night (when spider-man 3 was filming) than she had ever seen.

  4. It’s downtown — they’ve been shooting movies there for decades.

    Yeah, I’m not arguing that point. I’m asking if they can continue business as usual if they really want to turn downtown into a vital and active community. Can you imagine major chunks of Santa Monica around the Promenade being shut down every Saturday and Sunday? Along with all the parking lots? I doubt it.

    I’m not just making this up off the top of my head. I only started thinking about it because my realtor, who has lived downtown for three years, was very vocal about the issue. He’s not the only one. I think this quote from one of the two articles I just linked in the update sums it up nicely:

    Of course, plenty of movie, television and commercial production companies feel just as entitled to their freedom Downtown as do the residents and workers. Many have used the area as a back lot for decades, and have only recently run up against problems as a new pool of residents move in.

    the last thing downtown needs is huge multi-story parking lots. the red line, blue line, and gold line all reach straight into the heart of downtown. leave your cars out in the suburbs.

    Fine advice, but I only live about a mile and a half out of downtown so that would require me to drive to the suburbs first.

    Seriously, I would love to take the train downtown. Unfortunately the only one that’s convenient to me is the Red Line stop at Macarthur Park, and I’m not especially keen to walk there or walk home from there late at night. Plus, paying $2.50 and spending 30 minutes getting to a place that’s only 1.5 miles away versus using about 50¬¢ worth of gas and getting there in five minutes is no contest in my mind. If I lived even a little farther away, like Koreatown, it might be a different story. But as is, I’m still taking my car.

    and, having lived downtown for over two years now, i have to say that the impact of filming varies considerably from block to block, and this past weekend was a rare confluence of shoots.

    I’m it does vary, but that doesn’t mitigate the problem. Again, read the two articles I just linked. It might not bother you, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother anyone else. And if downtown is going to continue to grow I think the problem is only going to get worse.

  5. “Fine advice, but I only live about a mile and a half out of downtown so that would require me to drive to the suburbs first.”

    You could ride a bicycle.

    Driving production out of d’town because it is inconvenient for some residents and businesses(who understood the inconveniences when they moved there) sounds like cutting off your nose to spite your face. The revitalization of d’town depends on money, that is all. No amount of production scheduling will hamper its development, only lack of cash, much of which comes from production fees. Do you not think developers took production into consideration when they started pouring money all over d’town? Would it be upsetting if it was the producers who were upset by the news of all the new construction crews in their way? But they were probably placated by the suggestion that a revitalized d’town would be a more attractive location for shooting, no?

  6. “I’m asking if they can continue business as usual if they really want to turn downtown into a vital and active community.”

    Been to Manhattan lately? Seems to work fine there.

  7. “I’m asking if they can continue business as usual if they really want to turn downtown into a vital and active community.”

    Been to Manhattan lately? Seems to work fine there.

    And while we’re at it, we should ask if downtown ever *can* be a “vital and active community.” LA is unlike any other city — it doesn’t really have a center. Chicago has a downtown. Denver has a downtown. New York has Manhattan. Maybe — and I’m just asking the question — we should put our efforts into other things with a real payoff. Trying to turn downtown into Santa Monica — or anything with a nightlife — may be a fool’s errand. Or not. I don’t know the answer, but it’s a question we need to answer.

  8. You could ride a bicycle.

    If you want to ride a bicycle late at night through Macarthur Park or Pico-Union, be my guest. I’m totally open to the idea of riding a bike, and I deeply hope that alternative transportation is a major component of rebuilding downtown. However, people will never stop driving their cars into downtown LA.

    LA is unlike any other city

    Which is why I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to say it works in Manhattan.

    And while we’re at it, we should ask if downtown ever *can* be a “vital and active community.”

    Fair question. A lot of people think the answer is yes. I don’t know how much you know about the development of downtown Denver, but for the record it was a wasteland just like downtown LA. “White Flight” happened all over the country, and downtown blight is certainly not exclusive to Los Angeles. The city of Denver spent years and years and tons of money redeveloping their downtown, as have lots of other communities. Just Google “downtown redevelopment” and see how many cities pop up. So if that’s the example, then I say the outlook for downtown LA is pretty good. I could be terribly, terribly wrong.

  9. Yes, I know plenty about Denver’s Rennaisance, and Dallas’. I had an opportunity to get involved in promoting the “new” Denver back in the day, and nearly moved there. But they’re different cities than LA.

    LA has no core — they did. Downtown LA is not a core. LA has many small cores that are bustling, but downtown is not one of them.

    Until you get business to re-establish downtown, moving there only creates a reverse commute. Denver and Dallas and Atlanta didn’t require the quantum mindset change and behavior change that a booming downtown LA would require.

    Those downtowns had a “sexiness” to their redevelopment that LA has yet to find. And until it does, downtown development won’t hit any kind of critical mass. LA’s downtown is gray — emotionally and physically — without the nightlife that Dallas and Denver kickstarted first. And until that changes in LA, there’s no emotional, compelling reason to pack up. Hell, there isn’t even cheaper housing yet 8-)

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