EXPOSITION BLVD — I think I’ve seen this one before.
IMAX, a film projection format company known for its larger-than-life nature films, is leaving the city by the sea for a brand new space in Playa Vista.
IMAX is the newest addition to the list of recent tech companies leaving Santa Monica for other Westside locations because of a lack larger offices and more affordable rents.
Earlier this year, Sony’s Santa Monica Studios announced plans to move its 220 employees to Playa Vista (and keep our name) this summer.
In 1999, IMAX moved with 30 employees to Exposition Boulevard near Centinela Avenue when the neighborhood was off the beaten path and underdeveloped, said CEO of IMAX Entertainment Greg Foster.
“It was the right place at the right time and we’ve loved working here,” he said.
The Santa Monica building was designed to house IMAX, he said, but they don’t own it. When the opportunity to build and own their own space in Playa Vista arose, they pulled the trigger. The new 66,000-square-foot space broke ground last month and will house IMAX’s 120 employees sometime next year.
IMAX executives also heard the train coming, literally. The Exposition Light Rail, which is expected to open three Santa Monica stations in 2015, is going to pass right by the company and create too much noise. A maintenance yard is going to be built not too far from the office as well.
“We had this big backyard and now there’s a wall there,” Foster said. “It was eminent domained. That train is going to be noisy. We do a lot of picture and sound work on the movies we do so that’s not going to work.”
Foster was careful to stress that the move has nothing to do with Santa Monica.
“We loved working here,” he said. “If we had the opportunity to have the same space and same economic situation that we are getting in Playa Vista we would have said yes in about two seconds.”
The new building is roughly the same size, Foster said, but it’s more efficient. In the Santa Monica building, the office space mirrors the film screening rooms with their tall ceilings. The screening rooms at the new office will be built separately from the work spaces, which means lower ceilings.
“AC and heating are more expensive than they need to be,” Foster said. “Light has to be stronger. It’s great looking but it’s not the best use of space. It has two floors of office in what is essentially four floors of space.”
City Hall isn’t worried about the loss. Playa Vista is building off of the creative capital and technology companies that are located in Santa Monica, said Jason Harris, economic development manager for City Hall.
“I don’t see this as a competition in regards that we need to build more to be competitive as much as other areas have not been developed and now there is a critical mass of business activity that is wanting to locate on the (Westside),” he said.
With IMAX’s unique needs, Harris said, there might not have been anything that Santa Monica could have offered to keep the company in town.
“If companies do relocate out of Santa Monica I prefer that they remain on the (Westside) of L.A. so as to build the critical mass of industry,” he said. “Many companies in these industries feel the same as it relates to workforce. … As workforce moves between companies, it is best they stay in the area as opposed to having to recruit them from the Bay Area, for instance.”
Santa Monica will never have trouble luring those workers back, Harris said thanks to “the quality of life and amenities that are not available elsewhere in the area.”