Orange County Great Park Development to Speed Up In 2019
Thursday, January 24, 2019
Progress at the Orange County Great Park was slow for nearly a decade after its most visible feature – the big orange balloon – debuted, but after picking up in 2017, development there is expected to snowball in the next several years.
This year at Irvine’s 688-acre sports and recreation mecca, new features are opening, including one of the largest public ice facilities in the country and a 40-acre natural area with trees, walking paths and a dog park.
Residents will also get a glimpse of things to come, with the city expected to sign agreements to bring a children’s museum, water polo complex, indoor volleyball and basketball facility and the return of Wild Rivers water park, Irvine City Manager John Russo said.
The council on Jan. 22, considered an agreement to negotiate a location and lease with Pretend City, which plans to move from its location near the Irvine Spectrum.
“I think this year you’ll see those projects move,” with deals likely to be made in the first quarter of the year, Russo said.
Russo also expected a consultant on planning for the cultural terrace to wrap up its work in coming months, and he hoped to bring a proposal to the City Council by fall. That 260-acre piece, in roughly the southeastern quadrant of the park, is intended as a less active complement to the sports park, potentially including several museums, a botanical garden and the permanent home of an amphitheater.
A temporary concert venue has operated on property owned by Great Park developer and Greater Irvine Chamber Leaders Circle member FivePoint Holdings since Irvine Meadows closed in 2016 to be replaced by a new apartment complex.
And although residential and commercial developer FivePoint doesn’t release detailed forecasts of its plans, less than half of the 9,500 allowed homes and about a quarter of 4.7 million square feet of commercial space have been built, so FivePoint has several years of work ahead.
The Great Park got a slow start, at least in part, because its earliest overseers – then a specially appointed board – had grandiose if somewhat nebulous plans and no set budget, so they spent several years and hundreds of millions of dollars hiring consultants and gathering input.
“We planned ourselves into paralysis and kind of broke through that logjam a few years ago,” Mayor Don Wagner said.
The park is being developed as a public-private partnership, with some of it funded by FivePoint and some by the city via a redevelopment lawsuit settlement with the state.
New at the park
Openings this year will include Great Park Ice, a hockey and skating facility that welcomed the public this month and is expected to be completed in the next few months, and the Bosque, a nature park set to open this spring with trails, a dog park and playground.
Meanwhile, FivePoint hopes to turn retrofitted shipping containers into experimental, pop-up food vendors next to the sports complex, with an eye to developing brick and mortar restaurants starting in 2020, CEO Emile Haddad said.
Dining options will be an amenity not only for families who come to the Great Park for sporting events, but for residents who can use existing and future recreational trails to get there, he said.
In addition to the forthcoming agreement with the children’s museum, the council could decide on a lease for the new Wild Rivers water park next month, and officials have been negotiating since last fall to bring a pool complex to be built by USA Water Polo.
While a new, larger Pretend City is still a few years from opening its doors, Executive Director Sandra Bolton said, “We are very excited about the potential to be in the Great Park.”
The move will allow the museum, which offers educational play and school readiness programs for young children, to expand and add outdoor events to its repertoire, Bolton said. Being near such well-used youth sports facilities also may grow the museum’s audience.
Haddad said he expects to break ground on a third new K-8 school in 2019, and FivePoint is seeking approval for a major healthcare campus and is working with homebuilders on seven new product lines.
Up in the air
Along with final plans for the cultural terrace, a few specifics remain to be worked out regarding the park’s future.
How quickly homes are developed will depend on the housing market, Haddad said. And with about 5,600 homes entitled but not yet built, it could take years to finish the neighborhoods.
Russo said he’ll be looking for some clarity on a proposed veterans cemetery, after voters in June rejected a land swap that would have allowed it to be built at the southeast end of the park.
Some deem an initial site on the park’s northern border too expensive because of required cleanup, but it remains available, along with a portion of land in the park that was slated to become a golf course.
With a Sacramento lobbying trip planned in February, Russo said he hopes to return with information on how – or whether – the cemetery can move forward.
“I think Irvine is very interested and the City Council very much wants to do something,” Russo said. “If there isn’t the money to do it, then we need to be honest about it. But it’s a state cemetery, so the state needs to come up with some money.”
Even with some uncertainties remaining, Wagner said he’s excited to see the Great Park finally living up to its promise. The city hopes to snag some 2028 Los Angeles Olympic events at the water polo complex, the ice rink facility is the largest of its kind in the state, and city leaders are talking with big-name cultural institutions that might open a west coast branch here, he said.
“This could be an absolutely world class facility that Irvine deserves,” he said, “that all of Orange County is supporting and can get behind.”
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