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Community-Focused Soundstages Coming To Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw

As a city synonymous with the film and television industry, soundstages are nearly everywhere in Los Angeles, but a new project by Pantheon Business Consulting will bring a new, community-friendly studio development to the Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw neighborhoods with a focus on amplifying Black voices.

A preliminary image of the project.

The project, called Stocker Street Creative, will bring about 50K SF of soundstages and 80K SF of office, public green space, production support, retail and multiple restaurants to the neighborhood. 

Project leaders want the development to serve as a campus used by major studios and independent filmmakers alike, serving as both an economic driver and an incubator. 

"The goal is to be able to have a very fluid environment where there are levels and degrees of access, that ultimately there's still a feel of a campus that is being utilized by the community," Pantheon Business Consulting CEO and President Stan Washington said.

It's not going to be an entirely open campus, Washington added.

There will be perimeter fencing and "layers of security" around productions, but there will also be opportunities for locals to engage with the site. Area nonprofits are also expected to take up some of the new office space in the project. 

Stocker Street Creative will include a handful of fast-casual restaurants and a more high-end rooftop eatery. A large green space between two of the brick buildings will be a space for art installations and events, "really an opportunity to again just create interaction on the campus itself," Washington said. 

With the exception of guided tours through backlots, studio properties are generally very private and not designed to engage neighbors. But some of the newer projects, such as the CMNTY Culture Campus planned for Hollywood, are aimed at being less like a fortress and more welcoming to the general public. 

The site occupies a corner at Stocker Street between Santa Rosalia and Don Felipe drives. Earlier plans for the project involved totally clearing the site, which is occupied by midcentury brick medical, office and nonprofit buildings. The feedback to development team was that these buildings were culturally significant, associated with some of the first Black doctors and dentists in the area. 

The team compromised by keeping a couple of the buildings for adaptive reuse.

Pantheon Business Consulting's Stan Washington

The predominantly Black development team reflects the area and many members of the team, including Washington himself, live in the neighborhood. They are all aware that the neighborhood is very comfortable pushing back against projects it doesn't like, so Washington knew that community outreach would be a necessity early on. They began community outreach efforts in 2021 and are still engaging.

"I think that this community has been disappointed by developments that have gone up [here] over the last couple of decades," Washington said. "As a result of that, all around us, there has been a lot of noise about projects. We have been very fortunate this has been a project that has not received a lot of negative pushback from the community." 

The location is somewhat pioneering, as South LA doesn't have its own studio spaces.

But with big demand for soundstages and studio space combined with new technology, more production facilities could crop up outside of the more traditional hubs for these uses, Project Management Advisors Vice President and General Manager for Los Angeles Sonnet Hui told Bisnow in an email. Hui was previously the vice president of construction for NBC Universal. 

"There is a resiliency to the industry and an almost insatiable demand for content across streaming services, film and TV that means more space in more diverse locations will be in demand for some time," Hui said. "New technology advancements are also making location shooting less critical, meaning shooting can move to where the talent is, and that's LA."

FilmLA reported 94% average occupancy for soundstages in 2020, which developers and film production boosters say shows there's room to support more soundstages in the city. 

The project has been fortunate, too, to find a single impact investor to fund the project, Washington said. Highland Park, Illinois-based investor 4S Bay Partners is funding the entire project. 4S is a family office led by Jessica Sarowitz with an eye for investments that target social justice and racial equity.

Sarowitz is the wife of Steve Sarowitz, the founder of payroll firm Paylocity. In 2019, the Sarowitzes announced plans to give away $1B in their lifetimes, both personally and through their foundation

"The mission here is really tied to her, her focus on women, underserved communities, but most importantly, the ability for people of color to tell their stories," Washington said. "That really was the genesis here, in terms of creating a project that allows for storytelling. It manifested itself into, 'Let's build a studio, and let's create real production opportunities.'" 

Having the funding from one committed source has given the project an advantage on a number of fronts, including in discussions with potential studio tenants. 

"That has given us an extremely strong ability to bring partners to the table, who typically would be hesitant, who may not have taken this type of project seriously," Washington said.

CORRECTION, AUG. 30, 9:30 A.M. PT: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the non-soundstage square footage of this project. It is 80K SF, not 40K SF. The story has been updated.