Issue: Summer 2021

Moving Hollywood Forward

By Nyla Arslanian

Hollywood is in my heart, but unlike many, it was never in my dreams as a wondrous star-filled utopia whose reality is a disappointment. In the 40 years I’ve been part of this community, Hollywood has always been fascinating and ever-changing. Today as we emerge from one of the world’s greatest disasters, it seems we are at a crossroads.

We’ve been in an era of unprecedented growth; thousands of apartments have gone up with many more in the pipeline. The same is true for our industry with new studios and production facilities being added to historic movie lots.

The question remains: Has our fame placed us in the crosshairs of growth or have we had, thanks to a pandemic a period to pause, reflect and chart a new course? As we emerge from all this, will we have discovered what is important to us as a community?

When Hollywood entered 2020, the future looked bright with promise. Netflix was poised to open its Vine Street location, the Heart of Hollywood Initiative to improve the streetscape of the famed boulevard was moving along, tourism—which had hit a high of 50 million visitors the preceding year—looked like to would keep pace or exceed those numbers.  Who would have guessed, who would have imagined what was about to happen?

It wasn’t as if Hollywood hadn’t faced serious problems before. We’d survived civil unrest, arson and looting in 1990, a massive earthquake in 1994, the digging of a subway directly under Hollywood Blvd., the 9/11 tragedy, and various economic downturns. Bottom line: the town has had its share of ups and downs. With all this under our belt, the question might be:  Based on past experience, will Hollywood bounce and come back better than ever?  After more than a year-long shutdown, what will be the new reality?  Let’s ask the experts. 

Dwayne A. Gathers
Dwayne A. Gathers, Immediate Past Chair, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; Creator & Host, CivitasLA podcast, keeps a keen eye on the entire region to give his perspective.

“While we don’t know what economic recovery may look like, what I do believe is that Hollywood is poised to resume its role as the central player in our regional economic progression.   Hollywood is blessed with significant tent-pole assets, key business engines driven by NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS/Paramount Pictures and Netflix.   These three massive business entities foster a creative ecosystem second to none and this will all greatly benefit the Hollywood regional economy.   

“Secondly, as the Los Angeles region gets set to welcome the world for a series of global events, starting with the Super Bowl in 2022, it is Hollywood’s global brand and brand recognition that will be in the spotlight, greatly benefiting our hospitality ecosystem. I am extremely excited about how Hollywood is positioned going forward.”

Kristopher Larson
Kristopher Larson, President & CEO of the Hollywood Partnership, peered into his crystal ball:

“Historically, innovation and entrepreneurship have emerged from every economic downturn and led the eventual upswings.  While the pandemic delivered catastrophic challenges, the forces of creative destruction will yield new businesses, enterprises, and opportunities in the wake of the losses endured and storefronts vacated throughout Hollywood. Tourism will also recover more rapidly than forecasted, which will help the hospitality sector rebound the coming months and year. In fact, vibrancy on the boulevard is rebuilding quickly. The languages spoken on the boulevard will be less diverse, as tourism will be primarily domestic in origin rather than international visitors.

We’re anticipating other Tinseltown-type signs as star ceremonies, movie premieres, and a deep pent-up demand for entertainment production return. New laws permitting a more liberal use of space for alfresco dining will likely become more permanent as people have developed a deeper appreciation for outdoor dining. Finally, the office sector will likely remain a laggard, as many places of work continue allowing remote work at least partially.

“In early 2021, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Hollywood Walk of Fame Master Plan—the signature project of Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s “HEART of Hollywood” initiative—officially completed schematic design, the second stage toward developing a full master plan. The schematic design envisions massive overhaul for Hollywood Boulevard that will require extensive review and evaluation of underground infrastructure. In early 2021, the LA Metro Board of Directors approved approximately $7 million to help fund improvements in the vicinity of the two transit stations at Hollywood/Highland and Hollywood/Vine on the Metro B (Red) Line and will help fund design for environmental review for a larger portion of the Walk of Fame Master Plan. Design development, the next phase of design work for the Master Plan, is expected to begin this summer. Meanwhile Councilmember O’Farrell’s team is working to develop partnerships and financing strategies to bring more resources to the project.

At press time, there is a concern for our arts community. Los Angeles County Department of Arts & Culture study on wages and diversity states, “as arts nonprofits fight to survive the financial storm of the COVID-19 crisis, many are looking ahead to a ‘new normal’ that will likely be a hybrid of in-person and virtual, touchless, financed by new revenue streams, and more centered on meeting community needs than ever before. This is an opportunity to reflect on mission and purpose. Arts and culture can be part of rebuilding both social cohesion and the local economy.” At this point it’s difficult to determine how this will play out.

Anastasia Mann
Anastasia Mann, president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council

“We’ve enjoyed a level of civic engagement not experienced since the beginning of the neighborhood council process. While our neighborhood council has a good following, being able to attend meetings from home via zoom has reinvigorated the process. 

“Neighborhood Councils created over the past 15 years are seen as a mixed bag. Essential to the process is citizen involvement in the processes of city government. The ease of attending council board and committee meetings coupled with being able to attend and testify at city council and city department meetings without the extreme hardship of travelling downtown and sitting through lengthy meetings waiting for your item to be called has been a boon to constituents.  We’d like to see this ease and convenience continue. This could be a good thing to come out of the pandemic’s shutdown.”

Rana Ghadban
Rana Ghadban, president and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

Finally, Rana Ghadbran, president and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce—which celebrates its 100th Birthday this year—has not let the pandemic slow her down a bit. Since joining the Chamber in 2019, Rana has had an ambitious agenda. Under her guidance the Chamber is thriving, but the Hollywood community is challenged. With serious social issues—namely the unhoused on our streets—she has worked to corral the business community to support and engage with many agencies serving this population. Rana currently serves as a founding board member for Hollywood4WRD, a coalition of businesses, local government officials, service providers, neighborhood representatives, and the faith community. With a call to action during the pandemic to formalize the coalition, the Hollywood Chamber Community Foundation will serve as the fiscal agent for Hollywood4WRD and assist during its formation process in order to better advocate for systemic change in Hollywood.

If there’s any one word that best describes the community of Hollywood, I vote for resilient. It has proven over and over again that it is able to withstand and recover from difficult conditions. Often knocked down, but never knocked out, working together as we always have, we see a bright future ahead.