Great Park Progress Report
The soon to be closed Marine Way, the major point of entry into the Great Park for the past several years, is one symbol of progress at the park. The two-lane road at Sand Canyon Ave. and the 5 Freeway meandered under freeway overpasses as one entered the Great Park, and some found the access hard to find at first. The road will soon be closed for the summer as it’s improved and eventually extended.
Now, the main entrance into the Great Park is Trabuco Road. Or rather it used to be Trabuco—in late May the Irvine City Council voted unanimously to rename it to Great Park Boulevard for the stretch between Sand Canyon and the Great Park.
Opening new entrances and renaming roads may not seem like major points of progress to some, but city planners and designers aren’t the only ones who know the importance of access, not to mention first impressions. We all do.
The changes in the access to the Orange County Great Park also represent deeper and more fundamental progress at the park. The milestones being met aren’t as immediately obvious, since they involve the less glamorous work of demolition of four million square feet of the runways, and the engineering and construction of infrastructure.
To date, FivePoint has reportedly invested more than $28 million on land improvements that include grading, laying piping and utilities.
There are additional roads being built and expanded, major drainage and water improvements underway and other significant construction projects that will serve as the foundation for all the progress to come.
Those visiting the Great Park Carousel, the 5,000-square-foot Visitors Center Pavilion or the cool Kids Rock Playground or other Great Park amenities can’t miss the earth moving equipment at work on the other side of the green fence. Of course, to get a drone’s eye view of the changes, the best vantage point is the Great Park Balloon.
In October 2014, the demolition of major runways commenced with a Turning Runways into Greenways celebration attended by some 3,500 people. Sponsored by Great Park master planner FivePoint, the party commemorated the start of a process now well under way.
The phases now in progress and planning include includes a 176-acre sports park approved by the city and to be built through FivePoint, with soccer fields, volleyball and tennis courts, as well as baseball and softball fields and stadium seating for spectators of the sports.
The city of Irvine website summarized the plan for this portion of the park thusly:
“The approved proposal includes a 175-acre sports park that will complement the Great Park’s existing North Lawn and South Lawn Sports + Fitness Complex. The sports park will become a premier recreational and competitive location with 18 new additional soccer and multi-use fields, 25 tennis courts, 4 sports courts, 12 baseball/softball fields, and 5 sand volleyball courts.
“In addition, plans include a 188-acre golf course and golf practice facility and clubhouse, 71-acre agriculture component, a 40-acre Bosque area near the Trabuco entrance, 36-acre Upper Bee Canyon area and improvements that will connect the Great Park to Irvine Boulevard, as well as the 178-acre Wildlife Corridor. The proposal does not impact the Cultural Terrace, which remains part of the Great Park Master Plan and will be developed at a later date.
“The five-year development of the 688 acres was part of three motions approved by the city council on November 26, 2013.”
According to a recent OC Register story, “FivePoint agreed to spend $172 million to develop just over half of the 1,300-acre Great Park. [FivePoint CEO Emile] Haddad expects FivePoint’s expenditures to go over that amount by $100 million.”
The story went on to report that, “Haddad expects to complete the first sports fields by the end of the year. Infrastructure for a soccer stadium is under construction.”
That stadium is described as including “professional-level sports amenities, and 10 support buildings for soccer, baseball and softball stadiums. State-of-the-art wireless entertainment systems, unique high-end canopies surrounding each building, and robust media and press facilities with rooftop lounges are also part of the scope,” according to Bergman KPRS, the firm constructing the stadium.
The Register story went on to say that “If FivePoint gets all its permits on schedule, [Haddad] predicted the sports facility will be done by the fall of 2019. The 40-acre bosque, a wooded area with recreation and trails, and 36-acre Upper Bee Canyon also will open by the end of 2016, Haddad said.”
And remember the improvements to Marine Way mentioned earlier? FivePoint is paying for that, too, as part of its agreement to plan, fund and develop the 688 acres explained at the city of Irvine’s website:
“The adjacent landowner agreement sets in motion Five Point Communities’ proposal to build the 688 acres along with additional public benefits that have an estimated gross value to the city of Irvine of more than $200 million. Among these public benefits, Five Point Communities agreed to provide an additional $10 million to the city toward improvement of Marine Way, the main entrance into the Great Park. Five Point Communities is already obligated to fund major improvements to Marine Way through previous agreements with the city of Irvine.”
To better imagine the scope of the sports park FivePoint is creating, take a look at the athletic fields already enjoyed by athletes, fans and families at the Orange County Great Park. Kids from all over Irvine, and beyond, enjoy the Sports Park North Lawn, a 19.5-acre sports and recreation field, and the 30-acre South Lawn Sports + Fitness Complex. Those fields feel expansive when walking to and playing on them. But compare those 50 acres to the 176-acre park that will debut in coming months.
Another major sports-related element of the Great Park announced in recent months is an Anaheim Ducks ice complex said to be opening in January 2018. Reports say that the facility will include four ice rinks for hockey, public skating, competitions and seating for 2,500 fans. According to reports, the Irvine Ice Foundation, a nonprofit created by the owners of the Anaheim Ducks, will lease the land on which the new ice facility will be located for 30 years, with ownership transferring to the city of Irvine at the end of the lease.
FivePoint’s agreement with the city covers 688 acres of the Great Park’s total of 1,300 acres. Some 200 acres of that are already developed. So what of the rest?
Again, the city’s website is instructive: “The Cultural Terrace, a 260-acre portion of the Master Plan for the Orange County Great Park, is envisioned by the Great Park Board and City Council as the next major project at the Park following the 688-acre public-private project area now under construction. The vision for the Cultural Terrace area includes a variety of culturally oriented amenities, located near the Irvine Transportation Center in the southeastern portion of the park.”
There has been much debate about and many proposals for the Cultural Terrace, including a new outdoor amphitheatre to replace Irvine Meadows, which is closing after this season; a grand public library; a variety of different museums, including a new location for Irvine’s Pretend City, and more.
There is a buzz among some Irvine insiders that progress on the Cultural Terrace portion of the Orange County Great Park seems to have slowed down. Some cite concern over plans for a County of Orange-owned parcel near the Irvine train station. Others see it as related to politics and the election.
While progress and politics always seem to be part of the process in creating the Orange County Great Park, Irvine citizens will soon be able to enjoy a greatly expanded Great Park experience. And isn’t that a nice thing to think about, after all these years?