Irvine’s Great Park Balloon Rides Are Free Again
Monday, November 25, 2019
The giant balloon that soars above the Orange County Great Park in Irvine has been giving rides for more than a decade, but it now has one new draw for visitors: there’s no admission fee.
Originally a gift from developer Lennar Corp., the balloon was installed in 2007 as a point of interest and a landmark for people looking for a new home in adjacent neighborhoods or visiting the then yet-to-be-developed park.
It started out free to take a trip 400 feet up in the gondola under the 210,000-cubic-foot balloon, but in 2013 Great Park officials added a $10 charge for adults ($5 for kids not accompanied by an adult) to help pay for some upcoming events at the park.
Fast-forward to this year, when city leaders (who now also oversee the Great Park) frowned over the red ink trail the balloon was leaving in the park’s budget. Charging for rides wasn’t covering maintenance and operating costs, and they considered shutting the balloon down if they couldn’t find a corporate partner to cover costs.
In October, homebuilder and Great Park developer FivePoint Holdings (which was spun off from Lennar) announced it would sponsor the balloon and make rides free again.
“I’d hate to see it be grounded or not used because of money,” FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad said in a recent interview.
In recent years, the annual ridership has hovered between 20,000 and 25,000 people. Balloon rides are available Thursdays through Sundays.
There is no plan to splash the orange orb with ads for new homes or products, he said, though he may use it to let people know about public events and Great Park happenings.
“We’re doing it because we believe all these elements create value for everything else around it,” Haddad said of why his company is paying for the balloon.
And when compared with the more than $200 million commitment FivePoint made to develop park amenities, he said the roughly $500,000 annual operating cost for the balloon is essentially “a rounding error.”
Also coming to the Great Park is a 125,000-square-foot Life Time Gym. Life Time locations are often larger than other fitness facilities and typically include several pools or tennis courts as well as spas, salons, cafes, and other amenities.
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