UTA Drops Request for Beverly Hills Street Name After City Council Balks

11:47 AM PST 05/04/2012 by Daniel Miller
UTA Plaza

The talent agency had expected the city to approve ceremonial "United Talent Agency Drive" street signs for two intersections near the company's new headquarters.

UTA has dropped its effort to add ceremonial "United Talent Agency Drive" street signs to the roads around the company's new headquarters after a contentious Beverly Hills City Council meeting.

The talent agency, which is slated to move into new 120,000-square-foot offices at 9336-9346 Civic Center Drive this fall, had hoped the council would approve an agreement that would have added ceremonial signage to existing Civic Center Drive street signs, in addition to other requests. The city of Beverly Hills gave UTA rival William Morris Agency similar street signage in the late 1990s.

The council, however, offered criticism at its May 1 meeting of a report prepared by the city manager's office that recommended the signage modification be adopted, along with other changes, including the relocation of the Beverly Hills Farmers Market so that it would not block access to UTA's offices. The council voted 3-2 in favor of approving an agreement that offers some concessions to UTA but said a subcommittee would have to take up the signage matter. That is now moot. A spokesman for the agency confirms to The Hollywood Reporter that it will not pursue the signage, adding that the agency is very much looking forward to moving into its new offices. 

In the most tense moment of the two-hour meeting, Vice Mayor John Mirisch admonished Assistant City Manager Mahdi Aluzri after he equated the proposed UTA signage to existing signage in the city that honors Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism.

"Wait, are you seriously comparing Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, with UTA?" Mirisch asked. He voted against the agreement, along with Councilwoman Lili Bosse. Mirisch also expressed concerns that other companies might make similar requests for ceremonial signage if UTA were given the honor, saying: "The question is, will there be a Platinum Equity Square? A Gersh Intersection? Will there be an MGM Way?”

In addition to Herzl Way, which is a ceremonial name for the 300 block of North Clark Drive, a section of El Camino Drive that includes the former William Morris Agency headquarters retains the ceremonial name of William Morris Place. The section of Clark Drive was given the Herzl name in 2010; the portion of El Camino has used the additional WMA name since 1998. (The agency received the honor in recognition of its 100th anniversary; Mirisch suggested at the meeting that the city might consider removing the WMA signs now that successor agency WME has moved its headquarters to Wilshire Boulevard.) 

UTA was represented at the meeting by CEO Jeremy Zimmer and attorney Mark Egerman, the former mayor of Beverly Hills. Zimmer opened the discussion by noting that other jurisdictions had wooed UTA when it was considering leaving Beverly Hills. "We looked at a lot of different options ... Century City was very aggressive in coming to us," Zimmer said. UTA's current headquarters are at 9560 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills. "Our competitors have left, but we are excited to be staying.”

Representatives of UTA and city staff met a handful of times during the past year to hammer out a prospective agreement that would entice UTA to remain in Beverly Hills. The city has worked to retain entertainment business companies in the aftermath of the departures of CAA and ICM in the past half-decade or so. At the meeting, councilmembers expressed gratitude that UTA had decided to remain in the city.

Egerman said that UTA initially had hoped to have Civic Center Drive formally changed to "United Talent Agency Drive" or "UTA Drive" and that the company delayed signing its 15-year lease with landlord Tishman Speyer, a New York-based developer, until the agency believed it had come to a meeting of the minds with city staff on how the signage would be handled. "Frankly, they are in the branding business," said Egerman in describing the importance of the signage to UTA.

But several councilmembers noted that while the city's staff had the ability to make recommendations to the council, it was up to the council to decide whether to approve the matter. Councilman Barry Brucker noted that UTA's offices would be located in the same structure that houses Playboy Enterprises and nearby offices of LiveNation, and other technology, media and entertainment companies that could conceivably be deserving of ceremonial street signage.

"They were mentioning they are a brand, and the reality is that with UTA, like other talent agencies, their clients are the brand. If anybody were to look at a brand, it would be Playboy that is on the block or LiveNation or Gibson Guitar," said Brucker in an interview with THR, adding that he was uncomfortable with the ceremonial street signage. "[UTA] knew how the process worked. In this case, they didn’t get everything they had hoped for and were upset by it and expressed their disappointment."

The signage would have appeared at two intersections near UTA's new offices.

Although the 115-agent company was rebuffed on its signage request, it scored other victories. With the 3-2 vote, the council agreed to allow the agency to use a plaza at Beverly Hills' civic center five times a year without charge. Also, the farmers market, which is open on Sunday mornings, will be moved slightly to the west so that vehicles can access UTA's parking facilities. The deal lasts until April 2027. But the council also removed an item from the agreement that called for the city to maintain a right-turn arrow traffic signal at Santa Monica and Beverly boulevards. Several councilmembers said they would have preferred to discuss the policy implications of the UTA agreement before the meeting. 

The agency's new offices are undergoing an extensive $30 million renovation; the property previously was the headquarters of Hilton Hotels. UTA will be the sole tenant in the 9336 Civic Center Drive building and occupy part of the 9346 building. The property will be renamed UTA Plaza.

Noted architectural and design firm Rottet Studio is handling the design and remodel of UTA's new offices; the company's Richard Riveire and Lauren Rottet are leading the effort. The offices will include a 150-seat screening room and private outdoor space.

Watch the City Council meeting below (the UTA discussion begins about a half hour into the two-hour video):

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Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller

(Below: The Beverly Hills street signs that honor William Morris Agency and Theodor Herzl. Photo by: Chris Godley.)

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