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The Mid-City West Community Council (MCWCC) voted in favor of the proposed Academy Museum on Tuesday, but without a major component of the project — the spherical theatre.
The proposed development would rehabilitate and adaptively reuse the exterior of the May Company Wilshire building at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, which is classified as a city historic-cultural monument.
According to the Academy, the museum ould be dedicated to films and filmmaking. It would include permanent and changing exhibition spaces and three theatres with a combined seating capacity of up to 1,350 people. Plans include a banquet and conference space with a maximum occupancy of 1,200 people. An approximately 4,000-square-foot café with seating for 150 people and an approximately 5,000-square-foot store are also planned.
However, plans also call for the demolition of a 1946 addition. In its place, the Academy is proposing a state-of-the-art theatre housed in a spherical structure with seating for up to 1,000 people, which could be used for special events and occasional exhibits.
“After months of study and deliberation on the project, the board voted to support a scaled-back museum alternative that also would implement a full range of mitigation measures addressing parking, transit demand, expanded DASH or trolley service, streetscape improvements and traffic mitigation steps,” said Carey Brazemen, MCWCC planning and land use committee chair. “I understand the board’s decision to take this approach. Concerns about the proposed event center, also known as the sphere, were overarching. The view that emerged from the board was that the impacts of the proposed event center could not be mitigated, and that it would be character-changing in a negative way for the community.”
The MCWCC joint committee of planning and land use and transportation, parking and streetscape had passed the Academy Museum plans with the sphere the week prior on a 9-3 vote, with one recusal.
On Tuesday night, board member Rosalie Wayne introduced a substitute motion to leave out the sphere, a view deck and associated pedestrian bridges — essentially Alternative 3 in the project’s final environmental impact report (FEIR). The motion passed 16-8, with three recusals.
The substitute motion also had key mitigations developed by the joint committee, which included a request for a parking covenant that would tie parking space requirements to actual vehicle demand, rather than allowing reductions in parking due to the project’s historic nature and proximity to transit.
“I think there were multiple concerns with the project all along,” MCWCC chair Scott Epstein said. “And I think many members of the community and the board were concerned about the traffic impacts and the parking impacts of the project, particularly of the theatre. In the traffic studies there were additional impacts from the theatre.”
Alternative 3 calls for the retention of the 1946 addition, while the Academy’s preferred proposal would demolish the addition to make way for the sphere.
Members of the Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA), Carthay Circle Homeowners Association and Beverly Wilshire Homes Association have voiced concerns about the Academy Museum for months — particularly about traffic impacts.
MMRA vice president Ken Hixon said his group was most concerned about the museum turning the area into something akin to the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles, and therefore they had been calling for the removal of the sphere.
“That’s where the crux of our traffic, noise, parking and all those problems stem from,” he said. “I know they maintain that it is not going to be that way, but it defies expectation that you would spend millions on an event center that is going to remain dormant. [The sphere] is not just going to sit, it has to be rented out.”
Any motion by the MCWCC is non-binding, but members said they hope that city officials take into account their concerns. The Academy Museum will go before the Los Angeles Planning Commission on May 14.
“The Academy appreciates the feedback we received from the Mid-City West Community Council and looks forward to continuing our collaborative relationship as we move toward anticipated construction this year,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said in a statement.
Other residents expressed disappointment in the MCWCC’s decision.
“I’m saddened by the lack of vision a vocal minority of the community has taken,” Mid-City resident Sheldon Bond said. “A movie museum without a place to show movies? That’s like supporting a restaurant but prohibiting it from serving food.”
The Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce said it would remain in support of the original proposal that includes the sphere.
“It’s a great adaptive reuse project of an iconic building in Los Angeles, a brilliant adaptive reuse,” said Stephen Kramer, board president of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce. “It would be a major institution added to Museum Row. With the revamping of The Petersen also, it’s a very exciting time.”
Kramer noted that the Miracle Mile has a positive reputation because of its museums along Wilshire Boulevard, and that his own clients often take the day to enjoy the area.
“Anything that enhances this neighborhood is good for business,” Kramer added.
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