Sunday, June 14, 2009
Michael Jackson's legal troubles were big news in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties a few years back. This WSJ story offers a look at what's happened to Neverland since that time.
After he was acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005, associates say, Michael Jackson vowed he would never return to Neverland.It always sounded kind of freaky that parents would allow their kids to spend time with the gloved one there at the ranch with no supervision.
The 2,600-acre estate, named for a magical place where children never age, has since yielded to reality and time. The amusement-park rides, elephants and orangutans have been hauled away. The two helicopter landing pads are empty. The private railway line stands idle and the ornate "Neverland" gates that framed the driveway are in storage.
If memory serves, the Santa Barbara District Attorney was disgraced when Jackson was found innocent, but the multiple raids on the property by sheriff's deputies seeking evidence and the lurid details that leaked out as a result, true or not, transformed the place into something that no one seemed to want to go near for years, especially the owner.
That's apparently changing.
Since January, more than 80 workers have been toiling at the ranch as part of a plan by real-estate investment firm Colony Capital LLC to convert the former money pit into a lucrative asset. The company has spent more than $3 million on landscaping and repairs to the property's electrical and plumbing systems. Soon Colony plans to bring in a small herd of Clydesdales to show visitors some signs of life on the all-but-abandoned estate.With a staff of 150, it cost $10 million a year to run the place during its heyday, back when Jackson was moon-walking and thrilling fans all around the world.
The new owners of Michael Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch hope the property will fetch as much as $90 million when it soon hits the market. The site, which has some notoriety, is undergoing re-branding, including a switch back to its original name. Ethan Smith reports from California.
The state of Neverland is a reminder of the excesses that precipitated Mr. Jackson's financial decline. In his years at the ranch, he stuffed it with items ranging from antique furniture to arcade-style videogames. After he was twice accused of molesting boys on the property, he had to shell out for high-priced legal teams.
No criminal charges were brought the first time around, in 1993, and he reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit. In the second case, he was acquitted of criminal charges in 2005.
The 50-year-old singer's debts now stand at around $500 million, according to three people familiar with his finances. The value of Mr. Jackson's biggest assets -- music copyrights that include 251 Beatles songs as well as his own compositions -- probably still exceed his growing debt, according to these people. Mr. Jackson's manager said the singer wasn't available for comment.
Last spring, Mr. Jackson defaulted on a $24.5 million loan backed by the ranch. Los Angeles-based Colony bought the note for $23 million and put the title into a joint venture it formed with the singer.
Interesting stuff - memories of a bygone era.
This week's cartoon from The Economist: