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$15M expansion frames future for Kaufman studio

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Now the home to "Sesame Street" is gearing up for another plot twist: a $15 million expansion its executives say should ensure its stature as one of the premier film and television studios outside the West Coast.

The studio has razed two buildings on its 14-acre lot behind the American Museum of the Moving Image to make way for an 18,000-square-foot stage and 25,000 square feet of support space, said Hal Rosenbluth, studio president.

"We are making a big commitment to the community and to the growth of the studios, and we're pretty excited about it," Rosenbluth said.

Construction should begin by the end of this year, he said.

The studio has been planning the expansion for nearly five years and had secured millions in public and private funds for the project in 2000. But its plans were derailed by the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the economic backlash that followed, Rosenbluth said.

The addition will be the studio's seventh - and second largest - stage, Rosenbluth said.

Opened on Sept. 20, 1920 by Famous Players-Lasky, the predecessor to Paramount, the studio produced hundreds of silent features, including portions of Valentino's "The Sheik." Later the Marx Brothers would film "Animal Crackers" and "The Cocoanuts" there.

During World War II the studio was used as a production center for the federal government, which made military training films there until 1970. After that, it was turned over to the city, which briefly used it as a community college.

In 1982 the studio was renamed for developer George Kaufman, who obtained its lease in partnership with Alan King and Johnny Carson. Their investment expanded and reinvigorated the studio.

Dozens of successful films and television shows have been filmed on its six stages, including the "The Cosby Show," "Scent of a Woman," "Devil's Own" and most recently "The Stepford Wives."

There have been years when the studio has not had enough space to accommodate all its clients, Rosenbluth said. With this most recent expansion, he said the studio should continue to grow.

"We keep growing in the main business that we're in, which is the production business," he said.

In addition to its six stages - including the largest stage outside Los Angeles - he said the studio has state-of-the-art audio and lighting studios as well as radio station WFAN, which broadcasts radio personality Don Imus.

"We're as close to a Hollywood lot," Rosenbluth said, "as you will find anywhere on the East Coast."

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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