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A Star Wars Office Park

by Diana Scott

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In retrospect, the Trust's "Request for Qualifications" (RFQ) for the Letterman complex seemed written with George Lucas in mind. The Trust's RFQ singled out companies involved in , "...biotechnology, multimedia, computer graphics, telecommunications, film production, Internet-based research and development, computer software, environmental science, and other high-technology, knowledge-based industries." Few except for the father of the Star Wars saga could score so many of those points.

Worse, the Lucas plan was an unabashed office park -- and probably one that would have tight security, given Lucas' famous secrecy surrounding his projects. Gone were any hopes for space devoted to nonprofits and museums.
The plan for the Letterman Digital Center includes a 15-acre "Great Lawn" (#2 in map above), a "campus" of three buildings for 2,500 Lucas employees (#1), a public cafe (#12), a lagoon (#9), and underground parking for 1,500 cars (#20)
But the keystone in the Trust's plan for generating park revenues was the leasing of Letterman property at "fair market rate." Officially considered obsolete, the current buildings are slated for demolition and to be replaced by equivalent space reconfigured in low- to mid-rise buildings on 23 of the site's 60 acres, according to the 1998 RFQ. (The remaining 37 acres will be subject to a later RFQ.)

The replacement buildings, a projected $200 million development, will contain a third of the park's nonresidential space and generate a quarter of its income. Privately held mortgage costs could have been offset by federally-funded rent subsidies, had the development included non-profit tenants (which it presumably won't, now that filmmaker George Lucas' Digital Arts Ltd. has been named preferred developer), with the length of the ground lease at least the duration of the mortgage, 35 to 45 years, on average, according to Executive Director James Meadows). Whether the mortgage holder (the "master tenant"), or the government will own the building, or will hold a 99-year lease, remains at this time unclear.

The sheer volume of space to be developed -- 900,000 square feet, or roughly two TransAmerica Buildings -- will have a tremendous impact on the park's appearance and ambiance. The winner takes all: its employees will have priority on housing leases in the park, displacing short-term interim tenants.

The projected timeline for developer selection at Letterman/LAIR was accelerated -- to say the least. The RFQ was issued August 14, 1998, and filmmaker George Lucas was selected in mid-June.

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Albion Monitor December 28, 1999 (

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