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Disney Reveals Plans for $2-Billion Glendale Project

Development: Campus is to include sound stages, production facilities, offices. Employment would double to 10,000.

March 14, 2000|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — Six months after Walt Disney Co. announced plans to build a new office-studio complex anchored by its Imagineering division in Glendale, key details of the plan are beginning to emerge.

Documents filed with the Glendale Redevelopment Agency say Disney wants to build 3.6-million square feet of offices, sound stages and studio production facilities. Zoning would allow construction of office towers up to 10 stories, although the company said it plans to build four to six stories, on average.

In meetings with business groups, service clubs and neighborhood associations, company officials have also placed the value of the proposed Grand Central Creative Campus at $2 billion.

Walt Disney Imagineering officials would not confirm the value of the project.

"Our company has a policy of not confirming what the cost of projects are," said Doug Moreland, vice president of development for Imagineering.

Moreland, however, confirmed that the project would double employment at the 125-acre project site--to 10,000 workers.

There are now 3,000 Disney employees scattered in office buildings at what is known as the Grand Central Business Park, which was developed in the early 1960s on the site of the Grand Central Air Terminal. About 2,000 more work in leased buildings on the site.

The reluctance of Disney officials to release information about the project did not surprise chief economist Jack Kyser of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

"Disney has always been very cautious with providing information," Kyser said. "When you're dealing with something like this, you don't want to attract a lot of phone calls by people anticipating what you want to do and trying to sell you goods or services. Politics can also impact a project like this--something Disney also wants to avoid."

Even so, business leaders are lining up behind the project, seeing it as a major boon to the economy.

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"These aren't jobs flipping hamburgers; these are top-quality, high-income jobs," said David Fleming, chairman of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, whose group was briefed on the plan. "This is one of the largest redevelopment projects in the entire state."

The project borders the DreamWorks SKG animation campus and is located in Glendale's 750-acre San Fernando Redevelopment Corridor, which was designed in 1992 to attract media, technology and entertainment companies to the city.

Glendale Director of Development Services Jeanne Armstrong said it was not immediately clear what incentives, if any, Disney would get. The city could, for example, choose to take property tax revenues created by the project and reinvest them into public improvements.

Walt Disney Imagineering began as a small band of animators, set designers, writers and engineers hand-picked by Walt Disney in the early 1950s. The Imagineers transformed celluloid fantasy into three dimensions--and in so doing invented the modern theme park: Disneyland.

After Disneyland, the division grew steadily--supplying Disney's theme parks around the world with an ever-changing array of attractions. The group attends to every detail in Disney theme parks, from the Mark VI monorail cars gliding overhead to the eye patches on swashbucklers in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Imagineers are currently designing theme parks that will open in 2001, including Tokyo DisneySea in Japan and Disney's California Adventure at the Disneyland resort in Orange County. The group is responsible for more than 100 Disney-owned patents in ride systems, special effects, interactive technology, live entertainment, fiber optics and advanced audio systems.

Imagineering also manages Disney's global real estate portfolio, which includes the New Amsterdam theater and Times Square Studio Ltd. in New York City, Disney's Burbank Studios, Edison Field and the Mighty Ducks Disney Ice practice rink in Anaheim.

Today, Imagineering is scattered among dozens of unmarked, aging office buildings in Glendale's Grand Central Business Park. Disney's plan calls for demolishing most of those buildings and creating a lush new office campus for the unit, plus room for TV and motion picture production and new media technology.

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The sheer scope of the project, however, is starting to unnerve residents who live between the Disney property and the Golden State Freeway.

"I'm worried they'll sugar-coat things and tell us what we want to hear in the planning phase," said John Pera, 34, who lives in the house he was born and raised in, a block from Disney.

"When they get the go-ahead, will they still work with us?" Pera asked. "If we have complaints, will they still listen?"

Moreland said Disney officials are meeting with residents in an effort to address any concerns.

Disney is due to release its draft environmental report in May or June, followed by at least 45 days of public comment, Armstrong said. The company must deal with with concerns before the report goes before the Glendale Redevelopment Agency, probably in the fall, she said.

Rich Ramirez, president of the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council, said Disney will have to assure residents that it will find ways to deal with traffic congestion created by the project. Others said they may want Disney to set aside land for open space or parks.

Glendale Mayor Ginger Bremberg said the project should not be seen as a chance to shake down the developer. "Disney owns the property and has gone to extraordinary lengths to create a fine development that will be a great asset to the city," she said.

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