Will California Buy Neverland Ranch?
No one seems to know what to do with Neverland Ranch, Michael Jackson's former home in Santa Barbara County. The AP has reported that one possibility for the 2,500 acre estate is for it to become a state park and tourist attraction. Assemblyman Mike Davis is saying that the California Department of Parks and Recreation should consider whether or not to take over the ranch. The ranch could become a destination for Jackson fans from around the world.
The estate is currently owned by Colony Capital LLC, a Santa Barbara-based private equity firm, that worked with Jackson to save the ranch when he nearly lost it to foreclosure in 2008. Jackson signed over control of the estate to Colony Capital for $35 million in 2008 and the company co-owns the property with the Jackson family. The model for this type of venture is Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Tennessee which still draws thousands of visitors each year but Graceland is privately run. Jackson hadn't lived at Neverland since 2005. After he was acquitted of child molestation charges, he lived around the world spending time in Bahrain, Ireland and Las Vegas before returning to Southern California and renting a home in Holmby Hills.
With California facing a $19 billion deficit many state parks have already faced closure. Governor Schwarzenegger is looking to unload land, not acquire more. A California ballot initiative has Californians facing a possible $18 surcharge on vehicle license fees to create a fund to support state parks. In the AP story Davis admits this would be a huge hurdle and that any move would have to be a public-private partnership. He says he might create a bill or resolution to consider the opportunity after the summer break. NAACP president Alice Huffman and others had approached him with the idea. Another hurdle is that local residents have always blocked any plans to turn Neverland into a heavily trafficked public space. Many of the rides and other special features that were at Neverland Ranch when Jackson lived there have been sold off and the property would likely need some updates and refurbishments to be viable as a tourist attraction.