Sports Park Premier Party
During the afternoon there were sports clinics for kids, a dozen food trucks offering tasty bites, demonstrations by world-class athletes and the opportunity to see and experience the six soccer fields, 25 tennis courts, five sand volleyball courts, and the Championship Soccer Stadium at the heart of the expansive complex. Both the tennis and volleyball centers include championship courts with fixed seating for more than 100 spectators each. A one-acre playground found immediate popularity with kids who inaugurated its zip line, swings, climbing apparatus and two slides described as “really fast” by one young enthusiast.
After an opportunity to explore and experience the Sports Park and its first-phase amenities, guests gathered in the soccer stadium for the official opening ceremony.
Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel directed the Irvine Police Dept. Honor Guard to bring the colors onto the field. As the flags of the nation and the state fluttered in the breeze on the hot summer day, Catherine Song sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem.
Dignitaries from the city, county and state were introduced and took the field, including Christina Shea, Melissa Fox, Jeffrey Lalloway and Lynn Schott of the Irvine City Council; members of key city commissions; Assemblyman and former Irvine Mayor Steven Choi and OC Supervisor Todd Spitzer. And Mayor Don Wagner and FivePoint Chairman and CEO Emile Haddad emerged from the stadium tunnel together, symbolizing the public-private partnership between the city and the company that made the day—and the Sports Park—possible.
U.S. National Soccer Team stars Landon Donovan, Amy Rodriguez and Brad Friedel also took the field, along with a collection of Orange County all-star high school soccer players who would play the first game on the new field.
But first, there were speeches.
Mayor Wagner thanked his colleagues on the city council and the citizens of Irvine “for being with us in past years, as we came together to make this happen.” Wagner also thanked FivePoint. “This is not something the city of Irvine could do by itself. This is a model of a public-private partnership. The results are something you see all around you, and you will see for years to come.”
Supervisor Spitzer reminded the crowd about a time when “the plan of Orange County was to turn this into an international airport, operating 24/7. Those of you sitting in this fine soccer stadium would be sitting in a United Airline terminal if some people had had their way.”
Spitzer noted that, “there’s a great legacy of individuals who helped make this Great Park happen,” and then introduced one of them: FivePoint’s Emile Haddad.
“Welcome to your Orange County Great Park,” Haddad said. “As we look forward to the next chapter of this land, it is very appropriate for us to pause and remember that a day like this would have never happened without the sacrifices of the thousands of men and women who were part of a different chapter of the life of this land.”
Haddad then introduced Colonel Steve "Chuck" Augustin from the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, which was based at MCAS El Toro until the base was closed in the late 1990s. “Let’s stand and salute the colonel and everyone here who made the sacrifice so we could be here today.”
The crowd rose and offered the largest applause of the day, at least until The Blues Brothers concert.
Haddad also explained his vision of the Great Park and the neighborhoods and commercial centers being built around it as “a model of how communities will be built going forward. Places where people will live, learn, work, play and connect.”
“What excites us is what happens on the fields like this. We get excited to see people on these fields and for superstars to be made. Where friendships for life begin with a simple hello between two strangers sitting right there, where you are now.”
Today is a great example of what happens when the public and the private sector work together.
Haddad and other speakers reminded the audience that the first phase of the Sports Park is only a small part of what’s underway and still being planned for the Orange County Great Park. When finished, the 175-acre Sports Park will include a dedicated softball complex with five fields, a championship stadium and four batting cages; a baseball complex with seven baseball fields, also with a championship stadium and four batting cages; plus, four basketball courts, six more soccer fields and “flex fields” that can be used for rugby, cricket and lacrosse.
Planned in conjunction with the city of Irvine since 2013, the Sports Park is funded and built by FivePoint’s partnership (Heritage Fields, LLC) with the city as part of the company’s broader commitment to develop and improve 688 acres of the Great Park with public amenities.
The FivePoint partnership plans to spend approximately $250 million creating its portion of the Great Park, an estimated $75 million more than required by agreements with the city of Irvine. The Sports Park is on track to become the largest public multisport facility in California and one of the largest in the U.S.
But the Sports Park, while massive, is still only some 13 percent of the entire Great Park.
Haddad reminded the stadium audience of more to come: “I hope to see you very soon at the amphitheater with our first concert; in spring, when we open 75 acres of passive parks and trails; and this time next year when we complete the Sports Park that will be two and a half times the size of Disneyland; and the Ducks facility that will open next year. And that’s only the beginning. Stay tuned.”
At that point of the ceremony Landon Donavon flipped a coin to see which team would kick off the first-ever Orange County All-Star Soccer Shootout.
Then soccer superstars Donovan, Rodriquez and Friedel, who would serve as honorary all-star coaches, gathered with Mayor Wagner and Emile Haddad in the center circle of the Championship Soccer Stadiu for the ceremonial first strike. The ball was passed from Freidan, to Donovan, to Rodriguez, to Wagner, and finally to Haddad, who booted the ball across the field, as confetti shot into the blue summer sky.
The public address announcer said, “Ladies and gentleman, the Irvine Championship Soccer Stadium is officially open and it’s time for soccer...” and the first game was on. As the first goal was scored in the new stadium, members of the professional Orange County Soccer Club and fans sang songs reminiscent of international matches, bringing a flare to the festivities. The professional OC Soccer Club will play its future matches at the stadium. The team, formerly known as the Orange County Blues, is part of the United Soccer League, a Division 2 professional league one level under Major League Soccer.
The final act of a great day at the new Sports Park featured The Blues Brothers. As the time for Akroyd, Belushi and the top musicians that accompany them to take the stage approached, the field of the new soccer stadium was filled with families, couples and kids, as were the stands. Picnic blankets were spread out, food truck fare was enjoyed and kids did cartwheels and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. In the skybox atop the stadium, a private party was in full swing.
As the anticipation for the concert grew, a video was displayed on the stadium’s scoreboards, reminding the audience how much had been accomplished in the months since the “runways to greenways” event that marked the start of the construction of the Sports Park.
As The Blues Brothers took the stage, following a welcome from Mayor Wagner and Emile Haddad, the sun was setting. Dan Akroyd paid tribute to “the great aviators that served on this field.” As the music of the “great African-American songbook” filled the air, the soccer stadium turned into a party that celebrated music, family, fun and the future.