For decades, Trojans have looked toward UCLA’s neighborhood with envy, begrudgingly admiring its endless lineup of quality shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. Finally, as Downtown’s spectacular LA Live project nears completion, USC has its answer to Westwood.
But now that LA Live and all its restaurants and hangouts are part of USC’s backyard, with the 14-screen Regal Cinemas just over the horizon, the only question is: How student-friendly will the complex ultimately be?
Both USC and LA Live have independently expressed interest in developing what seems like an obvious partnership, but plans on both sides are in the early stages and the lines of communication between the two appear to be few and far between.
Lee Zeidman, senior vice president and general manager of LA Live, STAPLES Center and Nokia Theatre LA Live, said Regal Cinemas, a new movie theater set to open in November, “was put together with the thought that it would be a tremendous opportunity for students to come.”
He added that Club Nokia caters to students’ taste with its hip playlists and restaurants such as ESPN Zone could be a potential hotspot for away game viewing parties.
The complex has an obvious appeal to the USC community, but no visible effort has been made thus far to specifically attract students. Zeidman said LA Live offered discounts for Downtown residents, including USC’s neighborhood, over the summer but there was no specific USC student discount.
Zeidman acknowledged that students are part of LA Live’s target demographic and the subject of appealing to USC and other local students is on the agenda at LA Live’s September marketing meeting.
“We view USC as big partner to LA Live. We do the Pac-10 tournament down here [at STAPLES Center] and we have a lot of USC students who come to the game,” he said. “We’re trying to come up with ways that help USC students become part of the area, once school is back in session.”
Many students said they are enjoying the new entertainment options offered by LA Live, but that they don’t currently feel it’s accessible enough.
“Transportation would be nice. You can take the bus but something else would be easier,” said Rachel Neyssani, a senior majoring in theatre. ‘’I didn’t even know about LA Live until like May. I think they need better promotion if they want us to come.”
In terms of transportation, Zeidman said LA Live is currently “in negotiations with the city and stakeholders throughout the city” to have shuttles that come from USC to LA Live.
“We haven’t talked to the effect of how much it’s going to cost,” he said. “Right now, we’re discussing the route and weekends versus weekdays.”
Undergraduate Student Government President Holden Slusher, who made LA Live part of his campaign platform last spring along with Vice President Ashlie Chan, said the last time LA Live approached USC administrators about providing a tram service was in 2007, back when he was assistant director of campus affairs. He said no money was offered to move the project along. Since then, Slusher said, USC has been brainstorming ways to fund transportation for students.
“There was no money coming from either side. LA Live was up for a tram, but they had no money to throw at the tram. If they had funds to contribute to the project, that would fast-forward the process,” Slusher said.
Chan said that with the opening of Regal Cinemas on the horizon, “student interest has spiked.” Slusher added that the theaters would be an alternative to schlepping out to see movies at the Grove, “which is so far away.” He said the cost of transportation to USC would not be exorbitant if students were using it often.
Chan said USC Transportation “tentatively said they would provide transportation as a trial period during a weekend to gauge student interest.”
USC officials said while plans have been discussed, nothing has been finalized.
Jeff Shields, associate director of USC Transportation administration and operations, said, “We have had some internal discussions regarding the possibility of providing a shuttle to LA Live, but at this time there is not a concrete plan to incorporate one into our operation.”
Shields suggested that, at least for now, students share a cab to and from the venue.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a USC tram would transport students to an entertainment destination. Last year, USC Transportation introduced Route D, which drops students off at the 901 Bar & Grill and 29th Street Café.
Slusher and Chan insist that providing transportation is more about safety than a matter of providing an escape from academia, however.
“It might be a couple miles or so to ride a bike, but it’s not good to ask students to ride their bikes. We don’t want kids to ride back if they’ve had drinks for Happy Hour at the Yard House,” Slusher said.
Ideally, he added, trams would run between 5 p.m. and midnight on Thursdays and Fridays, and all day on Saturday.
Shields said, “We certainly think a shuttle to LA Live is worth looking into, but it will ultimately come down to demand and funding.”
Student discounts could also entice USC students to head to LA Live. Slusher said he has a separate project just getting off the ground which could result in LA Live student discounts. He hired a company called Student Savings Club that contacts the top 50 businesses USC students said are most desirable and attempts to negotiate favorable discounts. Among the top 50 are Yard House and Regal Cinemas.
Because the USG Senate must vote on whether to pay Student Savings Club $1,750, hinging on whether the deals are favorable, nothing is set in stone, Slusher said.
USC and LA Live have each reflected on ways to better integrate the Trojans into Downtown Los Angeles. Whether they’ve communicated their plans to each other is another story.