A $1.6 billion proposal to expand the Universal Studios theme park and production facilities won final approval from the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday and now faces a county review before work can begin.
The NBCUniversal Evolution Plan involves extensive upgrades to the company's movie and television studios, including new sets, soundstages and technology, as well as new hotels, $100 million in transportation improvements and expansions at CityWalk and the theme park. The changes would also help with the planned addition of a Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction.
It has been seven years in the making and underwent multiple changes, including the removal of 3,000 proposed housing units, following years of negotiations with neighborhood groups.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he will sign the City Council measure. He said the approval comes "at a critical time in which we have seen production leave Los Angeles in particular and California in general."
The additions, he added, will make the site a must-see destination for tourists worldwide.
Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the facility and who worked on changes to the project, including the elimination of the housing units, said it will be a major boost to the city.
"I'm a studio guy. I wanted to see more studios built. I didn't feel more housing was appropriate. I could just imagine getting calls at 3 in the morning from residents saying they were disturbed by the filming on the property."
The proposal now heads to the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission for final approval before construction on the 391-acre property can start.
Corinne Verdery, chief of real estate development and planning for NBC Universal, said the city's action was a major step.
"The city was the lead agency on the environmental aspect and we will be working now with the county," Verdery said.
If all goes as hoped for, she said, officials hope to begin work this summer on the new Harry Potter theme park attraction as well as the production facilities upgrades.
Various changes to the project came after extensive negotiations with residential neighbors of the project.
Lisa Sarkin, head of the land use committee for the Studio City Neighborhood Council, said the elimination of residential units was a key factor in winning her group's approval.
"So often, we are here (at City Hall) opposing a development so we are happy to be here to support the Evolution plan," Sarkin said.
LaBonge said another key aspect was an agreement to not allow any digital billboards facing the homeowners other than the one at the entrance to the park. Digital signs will be allowed within the park.
"Their core business is entertainment and tourism," LaBonge said. "That's what we want to see on this site."
Officials estimate the project will create 35,000 construction and production jobs.
NBCUniversal also will build a small riverfront park and create a bicycle and pedestrian path.
Verdery said the company also will provide $100 million in transportation improvements, $3.5 million in support of the Los Angeles River and $1 million for community organizations.