Lucasfilm seeks new studio site

Local opposition kills Grady Ranch project

After facing strong opposition from Marin County homeowners and environmentalists over the past 25 years, George Lucas has decided to pull the plug on a new Lucasfilm studio facility at Grady Ranch.

The company will now consider offers from other cities to build the Spanish mission-style compound that would have included a 269,000-square-foot digital media studio, two indoor sound stages, a 7,000-square-foot outdoor stage, screening rooms, guest housing, general store, employee cafeteria and wine cave.

“Movies are waiting to be made, and we must move forward,” the company said. “Unfortunately, the projects we had planned to shoot on those stages have already started production and we will need the studio space by early 2013.”

Lucasfilm will now sell the farm land, located 15 miles north of San Francisco, to a developer who it hopes will build low-income housing.

“We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough,” the company said in a statement.

The Grady Ranch project would have significantly increased Lucasfilm’s presence in Marin County. Lucas has operated his Skywalker Ranch in Lucas Valley (with no relation to the filmmaker) for the past 30 years, where Skywalker Sound is also based. Those will remain there.

Although the Marin County planning commission unanimously approved the studio project in February, locals objected to the plans, worrying that the new facility would increase traffic, noise and environmental damage, taking their appeal to the county Board of Supervisors in March. Lucasfilm had hoped to break ground by next year, and planned to spend $50 million to $70 million on a creek restoration project and preserve 95% of the land.

But the prospect of delays prompted the company to move on.

“We have been trying for four years to get the precise development plan approved, but it appears that, as always seems to be the case, the process will be delayed again for more months or years,” the company said. “The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors.”

Lucasfilm is likely to find another location fairly quickly, given that the facility is expected to generate hundreds of high-paying jobs and tax revenue, its backers say.

The company already has been approached by two cities, according to a Lucasfilm spokeswoman, offering “substantial incentives” to build the studio.

“We have several opportunities to build the production stages in communities that see us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire, and if we are to stay on schedule we must act on those opportunities,” Lucasfilm said.

San Francisco embraced Lucasfilm’s plans, in 1999, to turn the former Presidio Army base into a $350 million home for its corporate headquarters, LucasArts videogame division, Industrial Light & Magic f/x studio, Lucas Learning, THX and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

“We’ve had a great partnership with the Presidio Trust and created a low impact facility which offers great benefit to its surrounding community,” since it moved into the facility in 2005, the company said.

While local resident praised Lucasfilm’s decision as a victory, business leaders were disappointed.

“It sends a very disturbing message to any company thinking about growing or starting in Marin,” said Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council. “It’s a model project. If this project can’t get approved, I don’t know what project can get approved.”

Lucas led efforts to block the development of more than 230 homes at Grady Ranch in 1974, when he bought the land.

Lucasfilm is now “expecting that the land will revert back to its original use for residential housing,” it said. “We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low-income housing since it is scarce in Marin. If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit. Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not business. Many years ago, we tried to stop the Lucas Valley Estates project from being built, but we failed, and we now have a subdivision on our doorstep.”

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