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Warner Bros. plans to buy Burbank Studios and occupy new Frank Gehry 'iceberg' towers

Meg James and Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Warner Bros. has sweeping plans to expand its Burbank headquarters by acquiring a nearby studio complex and moving into two Frank Gehry-designed office towers fashioned to look like icebergs floating alongside the 134 Freeway.

The purchase of Burbank Studios and office tower completion are scheduled for 2023, the year of Warner Bros.' 100th anniversary. As part of the deal, Warner Bros. will sell its historic North Hollywood Way facility known as the Ranch lot, which has long been popular for television production.

The multi-phased project, unveiled Monday, is one of Burbank's largest and most complex real estate transactions ever, with an estimated combined value of more than $1 billion.

"This is an opportunity to reimagine not only our workspace but our future," Kim Williams, Warner Bros. executive vice president and chief financial officer, said in a statement. "It will also better position our company for the future and provide for more production capacity."

Warner Bros., which was acquired last year by telecommunications giant AT&T, is eager to take over the complex because it has ambitious plans for expansion. Burbank Studios offered additional office space, eight soundstages, a mill building and a commissary, the studio said.

Warner Bros. currently occupies about 1.2 million square feet of office space outside its main lot and can move much of those operations into Burbank Studios. Buying Burbank Studios also enables Warner Bros. to expand its main campus with a contiguous parcel so it can concentrate its employees and productions in Burbank at locations that are secured by the company.

 

The complex that Warner Bros. agreed to buy, positioned along West Alameda Avenue, is the former headquarters of NBC Entertainment and the TV home to such talk show giants as Jay Leno and Johnny Carson. From Studio 1, Carson would wryly tell viewers the show was broadcast from "beautiful downtown Burbank."

Warner Bros. is buying back property that it once owned. Studio co-founder Jack Warner sold the parcel to NBC in 1951. NBC, originally a radio broadcaster, was hungry for studio space to support its push into television.

Current owner Jeff Worthe acquired the studio complex in 2007 from NBC's then-owner, General Electric Co. (NBCUniversal executives later regretted the sale, according to one knowledgeable insider who did not want to be identified questioning a prior regime.)

Worthe, in an interview with The Times, said he paid NBC about $250 million for the 35-acre lot. He is selling about three-quarters of the property, which he named Burbank Studios, to Warner Bros. for an undisclosed amount.

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