(AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye, FILE)
(AP) Michael Jackson still has Neverland, having cut an 11th-hour deal Thursday to keep it off the auction block.
But the magic that once made the financially troubled entertainer's 2,500-acre paradise in the rolling hills of central California's wine country one of the most talked-about places on Earth seems to have vanished along with its reclusive owner.
Jackson hasn't been seen in this bucolic area of oak-studded hills since he was acquitted in June 2005 of molesting a 13-year-old visitor to his estate, and his absence leaves the future of Neverland, a sort of Hearst Castle for 12-year-olds, in doubt.
"We're all, of course, wondering what's going to happen. We've heard rumors but we don't know anything," said Kim Morrison, one of the administrators of a private school located just across the road from Neverland.
One of those rumors has soccer star David Beckham interested in the property.
"I wouldn't mind having a new neighbor. It would be nice to have Beckham there," laughed Morrison, although she quickly added that Jackson "was always a good neighbor."
The pop star's attorney, L. Londell McMillan, told The Associated Press his client has worked out a confidential agreement with Fortress Investment Group LLC allowing him to retain ownership of the estate.
Whether he'll keep it for long, however, remains to be seen. Jackson is said to be living in various places, including overseas, and his family has said that when dozens of sheriff's deputies raided the place in 2003 they destroyed the fond feelings he once had for Neverland.
Before Thursday's deal was announced, the property was scheduled to be auctioned March 19 because Jackson had gone into default. Financial Title Co. of San Francisco said he owed $24.5 million on the former cattle ranch he bought from real estate baron William Bone in 1988.
By John Rogers
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