WALNUT CREEK -- Local leaders hope Luke Skywalker will pack up his lightsaber and come to a galaxy not so far away.

The city is trying to lure George Lucas' company Lucasfilm Ltd. -- the force behind the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" franchises -- to Walnut Creek and entice the filmmaking giant to build a big movie production studio in the Shadelands Business Park.

This comes after Lucasfilm development arm Skywalker Properties yanked plans to build a film studio on Grady Ranch in rural Marin County last month. The surprising move came after decades of homeowner opposition and difficulty obtaining necessary development permits in Marin.

A pitch from the Walnut Creek city manager sent to Lucasfilm boasts of the city's 97 percent business occupancy rate downtown, its health care facilities, open space, business partnerships and top-performing schools -- not to mention two nearby BART stations, Mount Diablo and various housing options.

"I think the qualities Walnut Creek has to offer clearly give us a good shot," said Mayor Bob Simmons. "Whether it's what Lucasfilm is looking for, I don't know. It would bring a whole different dimension to Walnut Creek."

It would add an industry the city doesn't yet have, though Simmons sees a strong connection between the Lesher Center for the Arts and Lucasfilm. Both provide entertainment and employ creative people, he said. It also would solidify Walnut Creek's status as a regional center for entertainment, Simmons said.


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Lucasfilm already has facilities in Marin and the Presidio in San Francisco; Walnut Creek would be its first East Bay location. It would create a "golden triangle" geographically for the movie giant, said Ron Gerber, the city's economic development manager. He helped lure Pixar to Emeryville in 2000.

"There is a lot of competition all over for projects," he said. "While we haven't escaped the economic downturn, there is a lot of economic vibrancy here, so we differentiate ourselves from other cities. We have a cultural infrastructure that is appealing to a workforce."

If Lucasfilm does come to Walnut Creek, it would likely revitalize the 240-acre Shadelands Business Park, where the vacancy rate hovers near 20 percent. No specific site in Shadelands, which has 2 million square feet of office space, was highlighted as a potential location.

Walnut Creek leaders have not spoken to Lucasfilm executives and are not "privy to anything specific" about what exactly the company is looking for, Gerber said. The Marin County project called for a 269,701-square-foot studio on a 52-acre site.

Because of that project, Gerber surmises that Lucasfilm is looking to build a two- or three-story studio. Since Shadelands is established, there wouldn't be issues with zoning or infrastructure, he said.

"We have space available and we don't have to build roads or sewers or deal with hillsides," according to Gerber. "Shadelands is a seasoned business park, it has adequate size, and we do have a lot of amenities."

Whether Walnut Creek would offer any incentives to get Lucasfilm to come hasn't been discussed, Gerber said. What revenue the studio could bring the city, or how many jobs, also are unknown. A rule of thumb for media companies, he said, is three to four employees per 1,000 square feet of building space.

Lucasfilm did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

In a letter posted on the Skywalker Properties' Grady Ranch website last month, the company indicates that it already has alternative locations in the works, or at least in mind.

"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," according to the letter.

The company says production has already started on projects planned to have been shot on the stillborn Grady Ranch facility. Lucasfilm needs a new studio by early 2013, according to the letter.

Walnut Creek is not the first city to get Lucas fever. Vallejo officials have reached out offering Mare Island as an ideal locale, and Benicia also has jumped into the fray.

But, according to Simmons, Walnut Creek shouldn't be counted out. Shadelands is the first place the human genome was mapped, so there is a history of innovation, and Lucasfilm in an innovative company, Simmons said.

"This, to me, is the best place to be in Contra Costa County," Simmons said. "This would add a high level of interest and attention to the Shadelands. And it would draw other businesses and enterprises that are complimentary to filmmaking."

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617.

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