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Off to The Ranch we go

Movies: Disney/ABC Studios production lot may create thousands of jobs and millions in SCV revenue

Posted: February 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

A residential cul-de-sac with 13 homes sits ready for film and television production at Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch, located on nearly 900 acres of land in Placerita Canyon.

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A small residential cul-de-sac with 13 homes was recently built in the Santa Clarita Valley, and a mixed-use business district with 42 storefronts will soon be ready use for as well in the latest private enclave in Placerita Canyon.

Before buyers make plans to scope out the new development however, they should know that none of these structures are for sale to the general public.

The residential-commercial districts are actually the proud new developments at The Ranch, a 56-acre Disney/ABC Studios production lot where segments of The Mickey Mouse Club and countless movies have been filmed since 1959.

Disney is the parent company of ABC.

The Golden Oak Ranch, or The Ranch, as it more commonly referred to, is located in a wilderness area. Portions of the ranch lie within national forest lands populated by rocks, hills and natural vegetation. The outdoor area is still so pristine that bobcats and mountain lions have been known to frequent the area.

Production sets

The residential street is completed and ready for use in film and television productions.

The urban business district will have 42 store fronts in varying architectural styles to compliment any period-filming.

Planned are a mixture of stores, hotels, government and office buildings ranging from the 1920s to the 60s.

The set will also include an urban alley, several cross streets and residential brownstone buildings.

“The Ranch is a movie ranch that is made available to everyone in the entertainment industry,” Ballering said.

Studio soundstages
In the planning stages are six soundstages, and up to 100,000 square feet of studio office space, including production offices and talent bungalows.

“We’re still going through the entitlement, approval process,” said Richard Ballering, vice president of production operations for ABC Studios.

The property is subject to a comprehensive environmental review and approval process, which can be lengthy. Hoping for approval within a year, Ballering said the buildings will be energy friendly LEED-certified structures.

Creative planning
Involved in the creative planning process since the beginning, Ballering said his team spent a couple years planning what the sets would look like.

The planners designed sets and environments that production companies were having trouble finding. Decisions as to what would be built were made on what would best suit the needs for both Disney and independent production companies.
“It was absolutely fun to be a part of the design process,” Ballering said.

With the planners working out of offices in Santa Clarita, the designs feature myriad genres and span across the country geographically in terms of look and style, addressing multiple periods in history so as to be as flexible as possible for movie and television filming.

“Our goal was (to) not replicate something else already out there,” Ballering said. “We wanted to fill a gap of need for us and the rest of the entertainment community.”

Jobs
Upon approval, construction is estimated to add 3,152 jobs to the Santa Clarita Valley. Upon completion, The Ranch is expected to employ people for 2,854 full- and part-time positions.

The Ranch is expected to generate $26 million in new annual revenues for California once it is fully operational.
Unless Gov. Jerry Brown axes the state Enterprise Zone Program, the studio will be eligible to employ many people by using the hiring tax credits.

“The studios and production sets will have more than a $500 million economic impact in the area,” said Jason Crawford, marketing and economic development manager for the city of Santa Clarita.

Full-service sets
Scores of television and movie segments have been filmed at The Ranch over the decades, including more recent productions of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Independence Day,” “The X-Files,” “CSI,” “Bones” and more.

The Ranch has a conditional-use permit that has allowed for several sets to be built over the years for specific productions. The sets are still standing, such as the forts built for the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.

Production companies will shoot portions of a television episode or movie at The Ranch, and many make use of the natural setting for outdoor shots. But until approval is granted for the construction of soundstages and offices, the site lacks the ability to provide a permanent site location for a production.

Land use
The Newhall County Water District voted last year to approve a water assessment in support of The Ranch.

The Ranch plans to build on only 6 percent of the entire property and plans to protect and maintain the natural backdrop areas throughout the nearly 900 acres that fall under its domain.

Incorporated into the designs are plans to enhance and protect Placerita Creek. Native and drought tolerant plants will be used in any landscaping and some areas will be specifically planted to minimize storm water runoff.

The Ranch has also been planting oaks trees on the property.

As an experiment last year, Disney grew squash, resulting in tons of squash donated to homeless shelters and retirement centers in the county, Ballering said.

Fire Fighting
What many residents may not know is that The Ranch also makes its resources available to fire fighting teams during the many wildfires that plague the southern portion of the state.

Firefighters are allowed to establish a base on the property, reloading their tanks with water from a water tank and several lakes on site at no cost to Los Angeles County.

“We also make The Ranch available to local and police departments for training,” Ballering said.

Studio value

The Ranch is part of an equation that helps keep the entertainment industry in Southern California.

During peak production periods, soundstage and production space vacancies can run as low as 1 percent, according to Disney.

The soundstages, sets and production offices will be state-of-the-art, and help fill some of the gaps that have existed for production companies, benefiting film and television production.

For now, the residential cul-de-sac and urban business district will bring some of that production business out to the Santa Clarita Valley which many entertainment industry people call home.

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