VALLEJO -- George Lucas fever, spreading like wildfire since the award-winning filmmaker's company Lucasfilm Ltd. scrapped plans to build a Marin production facility, has touched down in two Solano County cities.
An online petition at www.change.org, with 358 signatures as of Tuesday, bolsters Vallejo's Mare Island as an ideal new home for the scuttled Lucasfilm Inc. project.
"Mare Island is an historically significant place with lots of room for development and many historic buildings ready for renovation," the petition introduction states. "With strong community support, easy access from all parts of the Bay Area, and a lovely setting, this would make a great location for this company."
Lucasfilm's development arm, Skywalker Properties Ltd., decided to pull the plug on the Marin project last week, citing nearby homeowner opposition and four years of working to secure necessary development permits "with no end in sight." State and federal fisheries and water agencies have also raised concerns about creek restoration on the planned Grady Ranch site, according to the Marin Independent Journal.
In recent interviews, Vallejo City Manager Dan Keen and city Economic Development Director Ursula Luna-Reynosa shared their interest in attracting the proposed studio facility construction to Mare Island.
"I'm investigating the opportunity and if there appears to be any interest from Lucas then we'll seriously pursue the opportunity," Luna-Reynosa wrote in an email.
The city of Benicia was eying the development project as well, until receiving some disheartening news.
"I made contact with Lucasfilm, Ltd.," city Acting Economic Development Manager Mario Giuliani said. "They are already in (discussions) with at least two other potential locations and not taking in other suitors at this point."
Giuliani had no specific Benicia site in mind at the time he made his pitch, and was not told which cities were being considered, he said.
In its statement released last week, the company alludes to its alternative project location talks already under way, noting a need for a facility by early 2013.
"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," states the letter, also available for download on the Grady Ranch website, gradyranch.com.
A Lucasfilm Ltd. spokesperson declined an emailed interview request on the company's plans going forward, writing, "Thank you for your email and interest in Lucasfilm. At this time we are not accepting any more interviews regarding Grady Ranch..."
In Vallejo, the idea of housing a film studio is not a foreign one. At the end of 2010, a group entered into exclusive negotiations with the city to negotiate the conversion of the city-owned north end of Mare Island into a film studio. Last year, Vallejo officials broke off discussion with the group, which named itself Mare Island Studios, citing a reported lack of timely progress on acquiring funding.
Subsequently, in August, Vallejo solicited developers to submit credentials and qualifications to develop the land, and a rough sketch of a project idea. The city accepted pitches from Avant Housing LLC and LDK Solar for the 150-acres space in September. There has been no word of progress on project development for either company since.
The proposed Marin project, planned for the old Grady Ranch, would have covered 269,701 square feet on 52 acres, according to Skywalker Properties Ltd.'s Grady Ranch website.
Some 187 acres of open space would have surrounded the development. It was designed to house a digital media production facility for movies and television, with a focus on "production" -- a capability, space-wise, unavailable at Lucasfilm's other sites in Marin and the Presidio in San Francisco, according to the website.
Contact staff writer Jessica A. York at (707) 553-6834 or firstname.lastname@example.org.