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Universal Studios to Revamp California Theme Park

  • Robert Raffaele

It seems movie characters Norman Bates and his mother from the film "Psycho" will be getting some neighbors. As VOA's Robert Raffaele explains, movie fans and business owners may one day call a popular U.S. tourist attraction "home."

The studio that enjoyed worldwide success with such hit movies as "Jaws," "Jurassic Park," and "Psycho," is expanding the complex, which celebrates its legacy.

Universal Studios in Universal City, California is already the world's largest movie studio lot. Now Universal's parent company wants to add a major residential and business complex to its 158-hectare studio and theme park.

NBC Universal plans to add 24,000 square meters of space, including high-tech sound stages and a residential development to be called "Universal Village."

Under the $3 billion proposal, the new neighborhood would include 2,900 homes and apartment units. The 25-year plan also calls for new production facilities, restaurants, stores, a hotel, and improvements to the studio's famous back lot.

Universal City, in the Hollywood Hills overlooking the San Fernando Valley, was founded in 1915 by Carl Laemmle, who also founded Universal Studios.

In its earliest days, Universal Studios spread across a 151-hectare ranch. Over the decades, the lot expanded to include the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park and a shopping and retail area called City Walk. In recent years, zoning and environmental regulations have blocked Universal's efforts to expand the complex even further.

Regulations requiring current amusement park rides to be scrapped to create space for new attractions also hindered Universal's efforts to compete with nearby theme parks Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

NBC Universal says the project would create 17,000 construction jobs and add another 11,000 permanent jobs at the studio.

At a news conference Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the project an economic boon for the metropolitan area. "All together the existing [and] future studio, retail, theme park, and residential uses will generate approximately $21 million in new annual revenues."

However, many nearby residents say those benefits pale compared with the problems caused by additional automobile traffic.They say surrounding neighborhoods are already overcrowded with tourists and park visitors.

Plans by previous owners to expand the lot also met with similar opposition.

One resident commented. "It's their property and they have the right to develop it as they like. But, there has got to be smart development. You can't just put in thousands of homes without the roads and the infrastructure to handle it."

A spokesman says NBC Universal is working with city officials to widen roads to ease congestion. Universal is adjacent to a subway station and near two freeways. New parking facilities would be added near the subway stop.

Construction on the expanded studio and theme park complex is not expected to begin for at least two years. Universal must first secure construction permits and various approvals for the entire project.

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