Coming Soon to a Courtroom Near You: The Academy Museum

Coming Soon to a Courtroom Near You:

The Academy Museum

A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President

On May 6, the City’s Planning Department recommendations on the Academy Museum project were released.  As expected, the department declared that everything is fine with the project and you – the community groups and Neighborhood Council – have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. The traffic created by the project is fine. The inadequate parking is fine. The digital sign district is fine… Everything is just fine!

Of course, it is the Planning Department that’s wrong and they’ve now guaranteed that one more case will join the courthouse queue, attempting to force the City to obey its own rules.

A few weeks ago, I felt a bit of hope – guarded, of course – after a meeting with members of the Academy Museum team, including Managing Director Bill Kramer and attorney Bill Delvac. I told them there was support in the community for the museum but not for the attached 1000-seat special event center [illustration below]. I made the argument that people have been waiting many years for a motion picture museum and it was within reach if they could abandon the event center. There would still be traffic and parking issues with the 5,000 visitors a day, but I believed we could find a solution and I made several suggestions to get the ball rolling.

Since its inception in 1983 the Miracle Mile Residential Association has been making good deals that work for the neighborhood and developer alike. We have always practiced the art of compromise. Kramer and Delvac said they would get back to me, but they never did. That’s too bad because there was a deal to be made by people of good faith. Now there is only the legal route.

I hope that everyone reading this who had concerns about the impacts of the Academy Museum on our communities understands that the City really doesn’t care what you think. Our elected officials loudly profess to value you at election time, but otherwise they do whatever they want – and then dare you to stop them.

There are good people who work at City Hall – but their reasonable voices are drowned out by the “go along to get along” mantra of the Wizards of Spring Street. When Los Angeles residents raise their voices to object to a project they are politely thanked for their comments and the project is routinely blessed with the magic words that sweeps all of our objections under the rug, “No significant impact.”

That is what the Academy purchased with the million dollars they spent lobbying City Hall: the City’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

The Planning Department’s recommendations are cause for celebration for all those supporting the Academy Museum and its special events center – but that feeling will be fleeting. Sooner or later they will be on the other side of the argument and they won’t know what hit them. Every neighborhood in this city is prey to overdevelopment, traffic intrusion, and infrastructure on the brink of collapse. The boosters of the Academy Museum will find themselves in our shoes one day, battling some gargantuan project that will dramatically impact their own neighborhoods.

They too will learn what “no significant impact” means. It is not a merely a technical phrase for grading a particular aspect of a project, it is also an apt description for the effect that the concerns of the residents have on City Hall.

The courtroom is now the only forum where the residents of Los Angeles are having a significant impact. The City has lost case after case: the 2012 Hollywood Community Plan Update was rescindedconstruction was halted on a Target Store at Sunset and Westernthe CIM Group high rise on Sunset had its occupancy certificate revoked and its tenants evicted; and recently a judge ordered a re-do of the Environmental Impact Report for the Millennium skyscrapers surrounding Capitol Records.

So, don’t be surprised when you see the Academy Museum project on that roster, too.

For additional information:

Los Angeles Department of City Planning: Academy Museum Recommendation Report

Park La Brea News/Beverly Press, 4/16/15: Mid-City West Nixes Museum’s Sphere

MMRA Submits Comments on Academy Museum DEIR

MMRA Submits Comments
on Academy Museum DEIR

 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has submitted its comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report [DEIR] for the proposed Academy Museum at the former May Company site. The nearly 7,000-page DEIR was released on August 28, 2014. The 45-day commentary period closed on October 14, 2014.

The DEIR highlights the scale of the Academy Museum project:

  • The creation of a “Sign District” allowing for the historic May Company building to serve as a background for super-graphics and digital signs.
  • Demolition of the 1946 northern addition of the May Company building to allow for the construction of the 1000-seat “Sphere” theater with a 10,000 square foot enclosed view deck. In total, the overall project will house three theaters with a combined seating capacity of 1,350 persons.
  • A ground level “Piazza” beneath the “Sphere” theatre providing access to the northern entrance to the Academy Museum. The “Piazza” would host outdoor events and screenings with up to 2,500 attendees.
  • Banquet and conference space with a capacity for 1,200 persons, including a “ Tearoom” rooftop terrace with a capacity of 800 persons that will also be utilized for outdoor film screenings.
  • A Museum Café with seating for 150 persons and a 5,000 square foot Museum Store.
  • A projection of 860,000 visitors per year with no new on-site parking.
  • Movies premieres, concerts, and other special events.

The DEIR is a very lengthy and complex legal and technical document that is difficult to concisely summarize. (For an in-depth view, follow the links below to see the MMRA’s comments to the DEIR and our independent traffic expert’s assessment.) The MMRA objections to the project center on traffic congestion, traffic and parking intrusions, infrastructure, public services, and the overall impact of locating a major special events center in a heavily congested and densely populated residential area.

Here’s the backstory.  In the mid-2000s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS] began aggressively acquiring parcels in Hollywood as a future location for a museum. Working with the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which wielded its power of eminent domain, AMPAS secured a full city block south of Sunset Boulevard on Vine Street. Including other parcels, as well as their holdings at the adjacent Pickford Center of Motion Picture Study, AMPAS assembled approximately 8 acres.

Then, with the stock market crash in 2008 and ensuing recession, AMPAS’s fundraising campaign for the Hollywood museum site derailed. They were left holding a large parcel that was suddenly worth much less than they had paid.

Three years later the dream of an Academy museum was revived. In 2011 AMPAS signed a long-term lease to take over the former May Company from Museum Associates, which operates the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA].

This preamble about AMPAS’s thwarted plan to locate a museum in Hollywood is relevant because it spotlights what is so obviously wrong with their plan to locate the Academy Museum in the Miracle Mile: They are trying to fit all of their grand plans for an 8-acre project in Hollywood into a mere 2.2 acres at the May Company site.  It is not an easy fit.

AMPAS has had to resort to slight-of-hand in the DEIR to create the illusion that an Academy Museum is compatible with the Miracle Mile – so that they can preserve their objective to be a major tourist attraction and special events center. But the only way they can do that is to minimize its true impact on the community.

A 2008 Traffic Study for the proposed Hollywood museum location projected 7,800 visitors per day. The DEIR for the May Company location projects only 5,000 – for a total of 860,000 visitors per year. Museum experts not connected to AMPAS predict that the project will easily draw at least 1 million visitors annually, if not match or exceed LACMA’s current annual attendance of 1.2 million visitors.

Why does AMPAS claim that the Miracle Mile location will attract 2,800 fewer visitors per day than the former location in Hollywood? Answer: To justify the lack of any new on-site parking. In Hollywood AMPAS was going to build a 5-story parking facility with 850 spaces; at the May Company site they propose none.

But even with this miraculous reduction in the number of visitors, AMPAS still needs to conjure hundreds of visitors arriving on foot, bicycle, or wandering over from LACMA, to cram down their numbers to meet city-mandated parking requirements.

The DEIR tortures visitor projections and parking discounts so that it will support its most important finding: That there is already adequate parking at LACMA’s underground Pritzker garage and Spaulding surface lot for the Academy Museum to share parking with LACMA.

This defies reality. The residents in areas adjacent to LACMA have endured the parking and traffic intrusions of LACMA visitors for decades. Everyone knows that LACMA doesn’t have enough parking. The “Full” sign is up almost every weekend at the Pritzker garage and Spaulding Lot. But according to the DEIR, LACMA has hundreds of existing parking spaces to spare.

In truth, the Academy Museum is as much a major special events center as it is a museum, with 87,000 square-feet devoted to theaters, events space, cafes, and a store and 84,000 square-feet for exhibitions areas, collections, and exhibit support.

As stated in the DEIR, the primary purpose and objective of the project is “…providing film screening and premieres in a state-of-the-art theater competitive with venues in size and amenities.”  Translation: The museum hopes to steal some of the audience, and wrestle some of the revenue, from such popular film premier venues as the Chinese Theater, the El Captain, and the Cinerama Dome. The list of additional events, besides film premieres, includes Academy member and public film screenings, traveling shows, concerts, performances, cultural programming, spoken word productions, classes, video and press events, and film festivals. Each of these will attract anywhere from 100 to 1,325 attendees.

These “special events” are intended to “Provide for revenue-generating events that support sustainable Museum operations….” Not surprisingly, AMPAS places no limit on the number of special events per year nor does the DEIR indicate the maximum number of special events that the project could potentially accommodate on an annual basis. That could top 300 per year – especially given their desire for revenue.

From the blare of rooftop movie screenings to the glare of digital signs that violate the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay, to the onslaught of traffic and nightly events, the MMRA has concluded that the Academy Museum doesn’t fit the Miracle Mile. With all due respect, it should go back to where it came from: Hollywood. That’s where it was originally supposed to be. And that’s where tourists expect to find it.

For additional information:

Academy Museum Draft Environmental Impact Report

Miracle Mile Residential Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Tom Brohard and Associates – MMRA Commissioned Traffic Focused Review of the Academy Museum DEIR

Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Carthay Circle Neighborhood Association – Comments on the Academy Museum DEIR

Los Angeles Times [Feb. 28, 2014]: Some Feel Cheated by Change in Film Academy’s Hollywood Museum Plans