Money and Other Strangers

On the Beat

DEAL FOR NEVERLAND? Michael Jackson’s 2,600-acre Neverland Ranch theoretically could be split into 100-acre parcels under current zoning, although such an extreme slicing and dicing seems unlikely.

But with Santa Barbaran Tom Barrack, one of the world’s biggest developers, now owning Jackson’s loan on the ranch, some sort of split could be an option if Jackson defaults, according to one real estate source I talked to.

On the Beat

Even if Barrack forecloses and doesn’t subdivide, he’s looking at a paper profit of perhaps $14 million on his $23.6 investment, by one knowledgeable professional’s estimate. That’s because its land value is about $26 million and the improvements, including some 20 buildings, are valued at around $11 million, for a total of about $37 million, the source told me.

And under a theoretical split into 100-acre ranches, Barrack could gross something like $130 million, the professional estimated. Nearby ranches are being split, but my source doesn’t think the county would allow 100-acre lots, even though that conforms to current zoning.

On the other hand, cash-challenged Jackson could actually start paying on the $23.5 million loan that Barrack’s company, Colony Capital, bought from Fortress Investment Group. It seems unlikely, however. By buying the loan and thus saving the entertainer from losing Neverland at auction this week, Barrack figures to harvest a hefty interest payment on the loan-if Jackson makes the payments. Barrack “can’t lose,” my source said.

The ranch, once a circus-like playground for Jackson’s friends and invited guests, has now fallen into disrepair, the animals gone. Jackson bought the ranch in 1988 for about $28 million. As far as anyone knows, Jackson hasn’t set foot on the ranch or even in the county since being acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005. He’s been living abroad, far from any new allegations that might emerge from the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office. So far there’s been no hint of that, especially since DA Tom Sneddon, whom Jackson considered a major tormentor, has retired. The entertainer and Barrack’s people are said to be talking. So what kind of a deal are they cooking up?

CONSUMERS, AHOY! Two more major opportunities to buy goods imported from other countries-and maybe some actually made in America-are on the hazy horizon. Best Buy, a great place to spend your economy stimulation checks on Asian-made electronics, may fill the spot at Camino Real Marketplace vacated by CompUSA. And Target, that mecca of consumerism, may be opening across Hollister Avenue.

HIGH COST OF S.B.: Your recession-challenged income may be shrinking, but the cost of living isn’t, thanks to City Hall. On June 17, the City Council will consider proposed rate hikes of 3.5 percent for water, 6 percent for sewer service, and 4.5 for garbage pickup. And isn’t it time for Cox Communications to kick it up another notch?

POWERFUL EMOTIONS: Mix a stirring saga of immigrants in a harsh new land with star-crossed lovers struggling to find their destiny and you have the magnificently staged My Antonia, at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre. Antonia is a young Bohemian girl, beautifully played by Shiva Rose, who finds herself on the plains of Nebraska with her Eastern European family in the late 1800s. Scott Schwartz, who adapted the play from Willa Cather’s novel of the same name, displayed a poetically moving style of staging, with actors moving to and from the darkened sidelines, as the years passed like harvests, fruitful and otherwise. It was an outstanding night of inspired theater.

NUDE GUYS ONSTAGE: Word revealed last weekend at Ensemble Theatre’s chilly outdoor bash at the DoubleTree: Next season’s play Take Me Out, in which a baseball player reveals that he’s out-gay, that is-includes a shower room scene in which the team takes it all off. The full Monty.

MARK TWAIN: One of my favorite authors as a young reader was Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). He made lots of money from his writing but lost heavily through bad investments. To repay debts, he took to the lecture circuit, where his humor and devilish satire were a hit. Hal Holbrook, famous for his impersonations of Twain, will perform at the Lobero Theatre on Friday night at 8.

HISTORIC HOMES: The Pearl Chase Society is holding its 10th annual Historic Homes Tour of six upper Eastside homes on Sunday. The itinerary includes a 1903 rustic colonial, a 1926 Mediterranean, a 1928 Monterey Spanish classic, a 1916 Mediterranean villa, a 1904 colonial revival, and a 1930 early Christian architecture home, largely Byzantine and Romanesque in style. That alone should be worth the $50 charge ($45 for members). Info at 961-3938. Refreshments will be served at the Battistone House, owned by the late cofounder of Sambo’s. The Mediterranean-style house was known as the Purple Passion Home due to the many wisteria growing on the property.

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