disney/14″/mike1st/mark2nd By BOB HOWARD Contributing Reporter Clearly positioning itself for growth, The Walt Disney Co. has purchased the 100-acre Grand Central Business Centre in Glendale, which has housed Disney’s Imagineering theme park division since the unit’s inception more than 30 years ago. Disney bought the business park because leasing slightly more than half of its 2 million square feet of space had become too expensive, according to George Garfield, vice president of corporate real estate for Disney. “Buying this property is something we’ve looked at periodically over the years. We’ve acquired it because we’ve concluded that ownership is more favorable,” said Garfield. Disney has not yet decided whether it will expand into space currently occupied by other tenants when their leases expire, Garfield said. “It’s not clear yet how this will fit into the overall real estate strategy for the company, but traditionally the park has been a place where we have back-filled (occupied space as it became vacant). So if a tenant left, we would certainly consider occupying the space if we needed it,” he said. Neither Garfield nor seller Prudential Real Estate Investors would discuss the sale price. But real estate industry sources said the deal was worth more than $140 million. Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian said the transaction shows a commitment to Glendale that will boost the local economy, as well as that of surrounding communities. “When an important international company decides to buy a major piece of property, it means a tremendous boost to the prestige and the economy of the area,” he said. Grand Central Business Centre, situated on a former airfield that was a storied hangout for Hollywood celebrities in the 1930s, is just northeast of the Golden State (5) and Ventura (134) freeway interchange. Before it was converted into a business park in the 1950s, it was the site for scenes from the 1934 film “Bright Eyes” starring Shirley Temple and was a regular stop for such aviation pioneers as Charles Lindbergh and Howard Hughes, as well as newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. Disney was among the first tenants at the park when the late Walt Disney established WED Enterprises there, the theme park-design division that later was renamed Imagineering. The Imagineering unit creates all of Disney’s theme park attractions and currently is developing Disney’s California Adventure for Disneyland in Anaheim, Animal Kingdom for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and attractions for Tokyo Disneyland and for Disneyland Paris. Disney’s purchase of the center is the latest in a series of large real estate transactions involving the Burbank-based company and other entertainment firms in Glendale and Burbank in recent years. Early last year, Disney leased an entire 192,000-square-foot building at 3110 Thornton Ave. in Burbank and in March 1996 the company took about 100,000 square feet at 5161 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood just two of a number of huge Disney leases signed in recent years. Other entertainment-related projects in the works nearby include the 500,000-square-foot animation campus that DreamWorks SKG is currently building on a 12-acre site just south of the Grand Central Business Centre.