Disney Plans to Build Major ‘Creative Campus’ in Glendale


In what would be a major new entertainment industry center, Walt Disney Co. on Wednesday announced plans for a “creative campus” in Glendale that would include dozens of four-to-six-story buildings, sound stages and a high-tech business center.

The project would be built on the 113-acre site of the former Grand Central Air Terminal, the first major airport in the Los Angeles area. The property was converted to a low-rise industrial park in the early 1960s and Disney bought it in 1997.

Disney executives say they envision the Grand Central Creative Campus as a high-tech hub that would be anchored by Disney’s Imagineering and new-media divisions and would house other computer and technology companies.


Although other commercial projects may be larger, none compares in terms of the entertainment industry, noted development consultant Larry J. Kosmont. “To the best of my knowledge this is the only entertainment corporate campus being proposed in Los Angeles County,” said Kosmont, president of Kosmont & Associates in Los Angeles. “Playa Vista may still view itself as an entertainment campus project but they’re missing their Disney equivalent.”

Although Disney declined to say how much it plans to invest in the development, a project of the size proposed would be among the largest urban commercial projects in the region. It is comparable to the 114-acre office campus proposed as part of the 1,087-acre Playa Vista project, a housing and commercial development near Marina del Rey.

Wednesday’s announcement marked the first time Disney officials have publicly disclosed development plans for the property. Even so, company officials said they could not say exactly how many square feet of space would be developed or how many jobs would be created until they complete an environmental review.

It also is unclear how long the project might take to complete.

Disney’s stock price has fared poorly during the last year, and the company has been scrutinizing all its operations for cost savings and perhaps retrenchment. Last month, it announced an agreement to sell its Fairchild Publications unit, and it is considering selling its sports teams.

Disney officials could not immediately say why the company is proceeding with such a huge development at a time when other operations are being pruned.

Walt Disney Imagineering, the research and development arm of Disney that designs theme park rides and other attractions, has been in the Grand Central industrial park since 1961. It now occupies about 60% of the business park and has 3,000 employees based there.

Disney said it plans to create four distinct areas on the property:

* A 52-acre “creative campus” that would house Imagineering and other Disney units.

* A 27-acre “media and technology” campus where office space would be leased to other companies.

* A 24-acre “TV and motion picture” campus that would include sound stage and production facilities.

* An 18-acre campus, as yet unnamed, that would be developed based on market demand and company needs.

“We want to create a campus environment that will increase operational efficiency, encourage creative synergy and lead to the development of a dynamic, high-tech workplace in the San Fernando Valley,” said Ed Chuchla, development director of the Imagineering division.

Chuchla estimated that 40 buildings could be constructed on the site and that the first of them would be ready for occupancy as early as 2004.

Though the entertainment office market is saturated, real estate broker Bill Boyd noted that “the prudent thing for them to do is build a little more than what they need now because they might need it later. And it’s much more affordable to build something as part of a big project than to add it on later.

“Everyone thought that they would eventually do something with it,” added Boyd, a senior vice president with Grubb & Ellis. “Now it seems to be happening.”

Glendale officials welcomed the announcement, saying the move will bring jobs and high technology to the city and the area. They estimated the project will take 10 to 15 years to complete.

“Disney Imagineering has been in Glendale for 40 years, and they’ve been a great employer and a contributor to the city,” said Glendale Redevelopment Director Jeanne N. Armstrong. “A project like this guarantees they will be here for a long time to come, and means the area they occupy will transform into a significant base for new jobs, new technology and increased benefit to the city.”

Mayor Ginger Bremberg agreed: “It will keep a very fine company within our city limits and provide new jobs for a lot of people. And it will certainly upgrade the area--from the renderings I’ve seen, it will be a beautiful campus.”

In developing the area, the company would close off two city streets--including Grand Central Avenue--to make for a more unified campus.

The street closures and the impact on traffic will be among the factors city officials will review.

“We have a long way to go yet,” City Councilman Dave Weaver said. “There will be environmental reports, other things to work out. This is not a small project. It’s going to take time to work everything out.”

Chuchla said Disney plans to restore the original Grand Central passenger terminal and control tower--now vacant--and convert them into office space.

The facility was the first major airport in the Los Angeles area and was used by aviation luminaries such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan.

As war raged in Europe, the Glendale airfield became a training site for thousands of Air Corps cadets and civilian recruits from Britain’s Royal Air Force. It also served as home base for Lockheed’s P-38 Lightning fighter planes, and became a major center for the repair and overhaul of aircraft.

By 1954, the age of big planes had arrived. Grand Central’s short runways and hilly surroundings made the airport undesirable. A year later, the transformation of the old airport into an industrial park began. The last runway closed on July 12, 1959.

In rebuilding the industrial park as a modern office campus, Disney said, it borrowed from designs of colleges such as Caltech and Stanford University. Chuchla said the campus will include “quadrangles” of green space, each surrounded by low-slung buildings and parking areas.

The Grand Central Business Center is in Glendale’s 750-acre San Fernando Corridor Redevelopment Project Area, which was designed in 1992 to encourage growth and investment by attracting entertainment, media and technology industries to the city.

Doug Moreland, the vice president of development at Imagineering, said the company is now beginning the period of actively soliciting public reaction.

Disney recently sent out information packets and invitations to community meetings. The first such meeting was scheduled for Wednesday night and another is planned for tonight.

Several neighboring residents fear Disney will attempt to buy nearby homes--something company officials said they have no intention of doing.

“In that case, it doesn’t bother me at all,” said Raquel Torres, who has lived in her house on Hazel Street for 22 years. “I don’t mind as long as they are not building it on top of our house.”

Houses in the area sell for between $150,000 and $200,000, but many of the residents there have owned their houses for decades and have no plans to move.

There is currently 2.4 million square feet of office development on the site, Disney executives said. The land is near the junction of the Golden State and Ventura freeways, and it neighbors the animation campus of DreamWorks SKG.

Times staff writers David Colker and Solomon Moore contributed to this report.