December 10, 2000 - From the December, 2000 issue

Blending Into The Urban Fabric: Disney Plans For Glendale GC3

Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) has long been known for its creative development team. Whether it's the Anaheim expansion or their newest project--Grand Central Creative Campus (GC3) in Glendale--Disney always seems to provide a quality product that goes beyond stimulating the local economy. Molding themselves into the surrounding urban fabric, Disney projects have become important sources of identity for the communities they inhabit. TPR was pleased to speak with part of this team--Director of Development Ed Chuchla & Senior V.P. Doug Moreland--who give us the vision for GC3 and the secret method to creating viable communities.


Doug Moreland

Ed, as the Director of Development for Disney's recently approved Grand Central Creative Campus in Glendale, give our readers a snapshot of the size and scope of that development. What is the particular aesthetic you're seeking?What are your goals?

Ed Chuchla
Dir. of Development, WDI

The project area for the Grand Central Creative Campus (GC3) is approximately 125 acres and was originally developed in 1920 as one of the area's first airports. When air service moved elsewhere in the 1950s, the site gradually turned into an industrial center where several companies, including Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), have since located.

Our redevelopment plan proposes to revamp the site's aging structures-mostly one-story underutilized industrial buildings circa 1961-into a state of the art creative workplace that will include landscaped courtyards, open space and pedestrian walkways throughout. Much like a college campus, we want the built environment at GC3 to be more about the open spaces and the connections between them than the buildings themselves. Together, we hope that these constituent elements will create a dynamic work environment and the kind of interaction and synergy on which creative companies like Walt Disney thrive. Ultimately, we see GC3 as a high-technology hub for the eastern end of the San Fernando Valley, and a big step into the New Economy.

We also think it's very important to link to the site's rich history-to the spirit of adventure and innovation that has characterized this site. When we purchased the GC3 site in 1997, we were extremely lucky during the site acquisition to also acquire the Grand Central Air Terminal Building, which we've committed to rehabilitate back to its 1929 glory. Symbolically, this historic building will anchor our design, focusing the region's long history of adventure and innovation in a visitor center. It will be a place for the public to learn about all that the Walt Disney Company has done, as well as a venue where people can experience the long-term connections between the City of Glendale, the environment, and this site.

Reestablishing connections to the site's history and the surrounding environment while creating a high-tech hub in the San Fernando Valley will solidly position this redevelopment area and ensure its place in the New Economy.

What's the City of Glendale's stake in this? Why is it a good fit for both of you?

Ed Chuchla: In 1992, the City of Glendale began to look proactively for underutilized and overlooked areas of the City to accommodate responsible growth. To that end, they designated San Fernando Road a corridor redevelopment area and structured a series of priorities to plant the seed for a powerful economic and aesthetic transformation.

We think the GC3 project is a great example of how the initial redevelopment plan can work. In 1992, the City thoroughly identified a tremendous number of infrastructure deficiencies throughout the corridor. Unfortunately, no projects came along that were large enough to fund the wide range of very costly improvements. We hope that our plans for the GC3 campus will make a significant difference. And according to an independent fiscal impact consultant hired by the City, the GC3 project will generate enough new tax increment to fund the required improvements and become the catalyst to ignite the transformation of the entire corridor.

At full build-out, the project will generate approximately $402 million in new revenues-$232 million for the City and approximately $170 million for L.A. County. Within those allocations, approximately $31 million has been targeted for the Glendale Unified School District, with an additional $72 million flowing to City housing programs. In the end, we believe that GC3 will begin to enable Glendale's originally envisioned transformation.

What issues were raised in the recently approved EIR? And how do you intend to mitigate them?

Ed Chuchla: The EIR for this project is one of the most comprehensive and conservative reviews ever drafted for this type of development. To give you a sense of the care that went into the preparation of the document, the EIR totaled 4 volumes and studied 14 areas of analysis and accompanying 15 technical studies.

In all of our development projects, the Walt Disney Company's top priority is to minimize the impacts on adjacent areas. In order to do so, we work together with our neighbors, the community, the business and civic organizations, and the city to develop a vision-shaping and reshaping it until all the concerns are addressed.

A tremendous amount has been done to ensure that mobility and traffic are handled carefully throughout the redevelopment corridor. Obviously, one of the most important aspects to successful development in Southern California is mobility and access. In this case, the City of Glendale took the lead and formed a coalition with the City of Burbank in 1997 to identify improvements to I-5 and the SR-134 to ensure that there would be adequate traffic capacity to bring responsible development to both cities. And the coalition not only identified improvements, but was able to secure funding for them as well.

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Timur Galen, Senior Vice President for the Disneyland expansion, is quoted in the August issue of The Planning Report as saying, "As economically powerful as we [Walt Disney Company] are, it took the synergy of public infrastructure investment and tax increment financing to make it work." With the L.A. County Supervisors' recent unanimous vote to give as much as $74 million over 26 years to make road and sewer repairs to the San Fernando Road corridor, are we seeing in Glendale the same type of public-private partnership that we saw in Anaheim? If so, what's Disney's secret?

Doug Moreland
Senior V.P. of Development, WDI

Because my responsibilities include the predevelopment of Disney projects worldwide, I was involved in both these projects and know that there are significant differences between the two. But overall, I think Disney has been successful because we bring a unique synergistic partnership between our company, the community and the city in which we're locating.

However, I must say that in this particular case, the real credit goes to the City of Glendale. Through their 1992 EIR, they did a great job of first identifying the infrastructure deficiencies in the redevelopment corridor, and then designing an appropriate plan to transform the area by attracting the entertainment, high technology and new media industries.

Luckily, GC3 happened to fit perfectly into the City's overall goals. That was the beauty of the partnership: The City had set out the needed infrastructure improvements, and we happened to have a project that qualified for and could generate the revenues to support their redevelopment program. So the fact that this project is in a redevelopment area makes it a different model from the Anaheim project.

There's been a lot of discussion in our newsletter about Smart Growth, livable communities, and leveraging investment in our inner cities and inner-suburban neighborhoods. What's the lesson that our readers should take for their own communities' or cities' infrastructure investments? What's a useful model for their projects?

Doug Moreland: The most important thing is to understand the community's needs. In planning any development or expansion, we use our work sessions to work with the local community in developing our proposal. It's also important to involve all levels of the community-not merely the surrounding neighborhood, but a broad cross section of the city as well.

Ed Chuchla: We are very fortunate to be able to develop projects, that by their very nature, need to be integrated into the surrounding community. With every project, our commitment to and the improvements that we propose, extend well beyond the physical boundaries of our site into the community around us.

The transformation of the public street network in Anaheim's resort area is evidence of that commitment. Many square miles--going well past any of our properties--have been dramatically transformed into what we think will be a world-class urban environment. And that is exactly the kind of thinking we're applying to the GC3 site in Glendale.

Our style of development requires us to work with all levels of the community and the City staff and then carefully integrate our project and our thinking into surrounding area; the resulting urban environment represents the rich vitality of this thorough process.

Give us the timeline of how this rolls out? When are we going to see it?

Ed Chuchla: The project will be phased over many years, with the first phase of development beginning in 2004-06. We've just come through the planning and environmental approval process, and we are just now beginning to implement those approvals. Then there's the design and construction planning for the first phase, and so on. But we estimate that between 2004-06 is when something will pop out of the ground.

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