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Wayans inspiring 'hope' in Oakland -- City Council committee enthusiastically endorses brothers' plans for movie studio at ex-Army base
By Heather MacDonald, Oakland Tribune
June 16, 2005

OAKLAND A City Council committee gave two snaps up Tuesday to a plan to turn the defunct Oakland Army Base into a theme park and movie studio.

Under the plan, endorsed by the Community and Economic Development Committee, the city would negotiate exclusively for 12 months with the Wayans brothers, who want to build a major film and television production studio complete with shops, restaurants and a luxury hotel on 70 acres of now-vacant land.

"We see Oakland as a sleeping giant," said Keenen Ivory Wayans, flanked by his brother Marlon. "We want to get in early before everyone realizes how great it is."

The usually sedate committee meeting turned raucous, with city staffers and residents alike jostling to take a picture with two of the four Wayans brothers, the force behind several Hollywood blockbusters, including "Scary Movie" and, most recently, "White Chicks."

More than four dozen Oakland residents pleaded with the committee to quickly give the plan the green light before the Wayanses have second thoughts. The Wayans first rose to stardom on the TV show "In Living Color," where they famously reimagined Siskel & Ebert as two African-American and flamboyantly gay film critics quick to give good movies "two snaps up."

Several people told the council the project had the potential to restore Oaklanders' pride in their city and roll back the poverty, crime and blight that has bedeviled Oakland for decades.

"This project could reduce and overturn two decades of negative television images of Oakland," said John Green, an Oakland resident. "Oakland would not be a laughingstock anymore."

Although details of the proposal were sketchy, the Wayans' management team said the theme park and movie studio could contribute more than $1 billion annually to Oakland'seconomy and provide job training and sports facilities for Oakland's teenagers and young adults, not to mention something to do on a Friday or Saturday night.

"It's about time our children have something to be proud of," said Oakland resident Samantha Thomas.

After the meeting, Keenen Ivory Wayans said he was humbled by the outpouring of support from the community but quietly warned the development was not the answer to all of Oakland's problems.
"Change begins with a drop of hope," he said. "It's part of a bigger answer."

The full council is expected to consider the proposal at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at City Hall, One Frank Ogawa Plaza. At the same time, the council will also weigh a plan to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Opus/Legacy West Wind to develop the remaining 50 acres of the Army Base.

Although Opus/Legacy West Wind once held a now-expired exclusive negotiating agreement to develop the entire base, Curtis Smothers, a company representative, said it would not stand in the way of the Wayans brothers' plans.

Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) said he was "absolutely" in favor of the agreement but wanted to make sure the legal issues with Opus/Legacy West Wind could be resolved and the details finalized, a position echoed by Vice Mayor Jane Brunner.
"You want us to do it fast, but we should do it smartly and fast so it doesn't fall apart," Brunner said.

Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) praised the Wayans for their commitment to Oakland and the city's youth.
"You have brought a sense of hope and pride to Oakland," Reid said.
Keenen Ivory Wayans said he and his brothers chose Oakland because they wanted to give back to a community "reflective of us."

Named after the housing project where the brothers grew up in New York, the Wayans' Fulton Project Development Group will pay $150,000 to cover outside consulting fees within 10 days of council approval.

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