Neverland could rival Graceland as tour attraction

Wed Jul 1, 2009 10:41pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Abandoned by Michael Jackson after a humiliating child molestation trial in 2005, the late singer's Neverland Ranch could now become one of the biggest draws in the world as a memorial to the King of Pop.

Jackson's family has said there are no plans for a funeral or burial of his body at the ranch in central California after his death last week.

But the rural playground inspired by Jackson's alter-ego, Peter Pan, would remain an attraction in a region already visited by tourists, and it could rival Elvis Presley's Graceland as a future venue for his millions of fans around the world.

"Michael Jackson has worldwide appeal and probably a stronger fan base than even Elvis. Neverland is a lot larger than Graceland and Los Angeles is a major tourist destination already," said Roger Brooks, CEO of tourism company Destination Development International.

"Neverland embodied who Michael Jackson was -- the good and the bad. I think it could draw about one million visitors a year," Brooks told Reuters.

Los Angeles-based private equity firm Colony Capital bought the ranch in 2008 in a joint venture with Jackson when he went $24 million in arrears on his mortgage. Colony said "any discussion on the future of the property is premature."

But there has been a burst of activity around the ranch in recent days as fans gathered to mourn and place flowers at its iron gates, and TV pictures have shown moving vans and landscape workers going in and out of the property northwest of Los Angeles.

"If Elvis Presley has Graceland, Michael Jackson can have a place for him here at Neverland. And that's how I feel, and I hope it becomes a museum in memory of Michael," Amey Avila of nearby Solvang, California, told Reuters outside the ranch.   Continued...

<p>An aerial view of amusement park rides inside Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch in a 2003 photo. REUTERS/Max Morse</p>