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Will Jackson Tourism Dollars Be As Easy as A-B-C?

By MARK R. MADLER and ANDREA ALEGRIA Staff Reporters If his funeral was any indication of his powerful following, Michael Jackson’s burial site at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale will be a destination for fans locally and abroad, potentially boosting the Valley economy, according to local business leaders. Jackson will be interred Sept. 3 in a private ceremony for family and friends in Holly Terrace in the Great Mausoleum. Forest Lawn is the resting place of many celebrities but none with the fame and notoriety of Jackson who died in June at age 50. Business groups expect these fans will want to say their goodbyes to their musical hero and are preparing how to inform them of what Glendale and the greater San Fernando Valley has to offer in terms of hotels, dining, and other places to visit. Once people are lured to Glendale and the surrounding areas, the impact to the local economy could be significant. “The fact that we have Forest Lawn is definitely going to be an added attraction a draw in and of itself,” said Bruce Ackerman, president and chief executive officer of the Valley Economic Alliance. “I think the fact that Michael Jackson is buried there could draw people that wouldn’t be coming here for any other reason than to visit his grave.” The City of Glendale itself is backing off doing any promotion of the memorial park and Jackson’s burial there. The city’s economic development department has fielded calls from U.S. and international media asking where they can stay when they come to town to report on the burial ceremony. “There is an economic benefit from those types of organizations spending nights there in that it translates into transient occupancy tax dollars,” said Ken Hitts, economic development manager. According to Ackerman, research indicates that the average tourist typically spends a little under $100 dollars a day when they’re in an area from outside, and that money could ripple down, benefitting restaurants, hotels and shopping centers. Forest Lawn, however, isn’t any typical cemetery. In fact, using that word to describe the 290-acre site of rolling hills straddling Glendale and Los Angeles is as much a no-no as its staff directing visitors to the burial plots of the famous. With restrictions on who can enter the Great Mausoleum, Jackson fans may find little to see or do there. Once word gets out about the restrictions the long-term visitor spending may never materialize. Jay Aldrich, tourism and hospitality professor at CSUN, agrees, foreseeing little to boost the local economy. “If it was (Jackson home) Neverland Ranch, set up like the (Elvis) Presley estate, it could have the potential to draw large crowds that would then have a significant impact on the local economy, but at Forest Lawn that will not be the case,” Aldrich said. “I don’t see throngs and throngs of people coming to the area.” Business owner Scott Michaels also agrees that privacy restrictions will discourage fans from turning up at Forest Lawn. “There may be a curiosity factor and people might try to go there, but they won’t be able to go anywhere near (the Great Mausoleum),” said Michaels, who operates Dearly Departed Tours, which escorts tourists to famous L.A. death sites. The closest comparison of the amount of tourism dollars Jackson’s burial site could bring is indeed Elvis, who is buried at his home Graceland in Memphis. It is the second most visited residence in the U.S. after the White House. The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates nine million visitors come to the city every year resulting in $2.5 billion into the economy. The bureau, however, does not break out the spending on individual attractions and sites. But according to the website of Elvis Presley Enterprises, the economic impact of visitors to Graceland is at a minimum $150 million a year. The Memphis city government certainly is not shy about improving one of its top tourism sites. The city recently got a $975,000 federal grant to be used to beautify the Elvis Presley Boulevard area around Graceland.

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