Menu
Home

Fox411

Celebrity News

Could Neverland Become Michael Jackson's Graceland?

5_28_450nl

As work crews fan out across Neverland Ranch, the sprawling, 2,600-acre property that once was Michael Jackson's home, speculation is soaring that the estate could soon become "Foreverland" — a Graceland-style permanent memorial to the King of Pop.

A "person familiar with the situation" told the Associated Press Wednesday that billionaire Thomas Barrack, CEO of the private equity firm that owns Neverland in a joint venture with Jackson, sought an exemption to bury the singer at the ranch — but it's a complicated process that couldn't be done in time for a burial this week.

And now, the family of Michael Jackson has released an official statement on the rumors regarding an alleged public memorial to be held at Neverland.

"Contrary to previous news reports, the Jackson family is officially stating that there will be no public or private viewing at Neverland. Plans are underway regarding a public memorial for Michael Jackson, and we will announce those plans shortly."

PHOTOS: Five famous celebrity death memorial destinations.

Officials from the California Highway Patrol, meanwhile, confirmed that a meeting took place on Tuesday with several members of Jackson's family to discuss plans regarding funeral services. The same source told the AP that no public memorial is being planned at Neverland and that Jackson's funeral and burial will more likely take place in Los Angeles.

But activity has increased noticeably at Neverland, in the hills of Santa Barbara County, 120 miles north of Los Angeles, with reports of more than a dozen vehicles and groups of gardeners spotted on the property. Despite reports that a service at Neverland has fizzled, a state official told FOX News that preparations are underway since thousands are expected to come to area this weekend, making it very congested.

LIVE SHOTS: Neverland Ranch

"There's no place for a bus to turn around, and in some places, it couldn't pull over to even allow a car to pass in the other direction," said the official who requested anonymity.

Six days after Jackson's sudden death, the arrival of construction crews and even tour buses at Neverland are fueling rumors that Jackson's family plans to make it a memorial to the King of Pop similar to Graceland, the white-columned Memphis, Tenn., estate of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

Owen Blicksilver, a spokesman for Colony Capital, which purchased an estimated $24 million outstanding loan on Neverland in May 2008, told FOXNews.com in an e-mail that "no decisions have been made" about the future of the property.

In 1987, Jackson purchased the property, named Sycamore Valley Ranch at the time, for a reported $19.5 million. He renamed it Neverland Ranch, after the fictional land of Peter Pan. The sprawling estate once featured amusement-park rides, a zoo and two independent railway lines. It reportedly cost up to $10 million a year to maintain.

It's unclear whether Jackson can be buried at the ranch. According to The Associated Press, California's health and safety code makes interring uncremated remains outside of a cemetery a misdemeanor. Cremated remains, meanwhile, can be kept only in a home or private mausoleum outside a cemetery.

Barrack called Neverland a "mythical sanctuary to Michael" shortly after the entertainer's death, and many industry insiders feel Jackson's legacy would draw huge crowds to the property, perhaps eclipsing the 600,000 tourists who flock to Graceland every year.

"Neverland could be an amazing experience, because that was Michael Jackson's vision from the ground up," said Roger Brooks, CEO of Destination Development International, a tourism consulting firm.

"It was really his dream. Granted, Neverland is clouded by accusations and some of the negativity surrounding Jackson, but at the end of the day, it embodies Jackson the way he wanted to be seen."

Brooks said the biggest hurdles in transforming the ranch into a tourism behemoth would be local traffic and the approval of neighbors.

"That could be a problem, it's a very residential area," Brooks said.

"But if some place was going to say, 'Hey, that's Michael Jackson,' it just makes sense it would be Neverland … It would be as big as Graceland, if not bigger."

Jackson's worldwide appeal is another factor that could lead to huge dividends if a permanent memorial were to be constructed at the site.

"It would be a major draw," Brooks said. "I think that Michael Jackson is even a bigger star than Elvis. If anything, he's just as big a star. He's the Elvis of our time."

But not everyone agrees.

"Maybe it'll happen for Michael, but Elvis was never accused of sleeping with kids," entertainment attorney Steve Gordon told FOXNews.com. "If you have kids, would you feel comfortable going to Neverland Ranch?"

Gordon said Jackson's popularity in the U.S. — particularly when compared to Jackson's appeal in Europe — never recovered following his acquittal in 2005 on charges that he had molested a 13-year-old boy at the property. Jackson's lasting image in that regard remains to be seen, he said.

"These wild waters have to settle before we find out what the legacy of Michael Jackson will be," Gordon continued. "Maybe they should open up a Neverland Ranch in London."

ON OUR RADAR

  • Gisele's beach body

    TMZ

  • Beyonce's mom speaks out on divorce rumors

    Pop Crush

  • Kim wears sheer shirt, shows a lot

    TMZ

AROUND THE WEB

TMZ

Celebuzz!

Zap2It

Radar

x17  News Online

ET