All About Marin: Disney reportedly shopping for space in Hamilton

THE BUZZ around Novato's Hamilton Field is that Disney is about to move into town, opening a large 3-D animation division in one of the old airfield's hangars and turning the old air force base into an entertainment hub.

Even before the Navy moved out, Hamilton's hangars were envisioned as a likely site for Marin filmmaker George Lucas to set up shop. But Marin's movie mogul built in Lucas Valley instead and moved his movie-making operations to a new complex in San Francisco.

But the empty hangars are slowly fulfilling that vision, as news is perking that Disney's new 3-D computer animation group, ImageMovers Digital, plans to set up shop in 90,000 square feet of hangar space that could accommodate more than 300 workers.

"I've heard it's happening," said one veteran of Marin's commercial real estate market. "It pretty well fills up Hamilton."

Neither Disney nor Hamilton Landing's owner, the Barker Pacific Group, returned the IJ's inquiries.

According to the San Francisco Business Times, the Disney team is headed by Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis and his movie-producing partners Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke. Zemeckis, who directed "Forrest Gump," is no stranger to Marin. He worked with Lucas' Skywalker Ranch studios on the 2000 Tom Hanks movie, "Cast Away." In addition, San Rafael-based Ice Blink Studios worked on the 2006 motion-capture animation movie, "Monster House," on which Zemeckis was executive producer, and his new animated film, "Beowulf," according to the firm's Web page.

The move would provide Disney a high-tech presence on two sides of the bay, teaming with Emeryville-based Pixar, which last year merged with Disney.

Marin Supervisor Judy Arnold, who represents Novato on the county board, said she's heard Hamilton Landing is "one of the finalists" in Disney's search for a site for its new division.

Novato Councilman Jim Leland, a Hamilton resident and a local real estate agent, said he's heard that representatives of the Barker Pacific Group have their fingers crossed that they are close to signing a large tenant, but he doesn't blame the company for being tight-lipped about specifics until after a lease is signed.

City Manager Dan Keen said he's been aware that Disney has shopped around Marin for a possible site. He says Hamilton Landing may be an ideal candidate.

"I would tell you that Hamilton Landing strikes me as a place where they would be moving," he said.

The promise of attracting better-paying jobs and the vibrancy of the entertainment industry should be healthy for Novato, he said.

Hamilton has quietly filled up with a growing number of tenants connected to animation and video games.

In March, Sony Imageworks opened a small studio at Hamilton.

Toys for Bob, which has been making video games out of its Redwood Boulevard digs since 2002, has outgrown that space and is planning to move to Hamilton.

It plans to complete its crosstown move in July.

The firm, headed by Paul Reiche of Novato, is a development studio of Activision, a Santa Monica-based video games giant. Its big hits have been "Tony Hawke Downhill Jam," a skateboard game, and "Madagascar," a game based on the 2005 animated movie.

Alex Ness, a producer at Toys for Bob, said the company and its 44 employees are looking forward to the move across town. The move doesn't portend any big expansion plans, he said.

"We just want to stay small," Ness said.

While its employees are looking forward to designing work space from scratch, they are going to miss the short walk to Trader Joe's and Starbucks they now enjoy, he said.

They will join other game producers, including Nihilistic and 2K Sports, as Hamilton tenants.

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