THE GREAT PARK LEAPS FORWARD
A few weeks later that point was confirmed with the groundbreaking for the new Great Park Ice Complex, which will open in 2018 as a state-of-the-art sports facility.
The public meeting at City Hall also included a smartly produced video presentation that confirmed that the Great Park promises to be “a signature location for all time,” and “a place for all people, for all time.”
A survey also was circulated requesting responses to a few general questions, including: “What three current features at the Great Park are the best?” and “What three planned features are your favorites?” The form also asked responders to rank by priority possible uses at the future 248-acre Cultural Terrace, with four possibilities to choose from: Amphitheater, Lake, Library and Museums, and there was also space for suggestions for other features, as well as the type of special events that would draw them to the Great Park.
To the surprise of many who had come prepared to give and witness public testimony in council chambers (perhaps with city council members present), the event was more informal. After the staff presentation, all adjourned to the lobby where several stations were set up with maps, renderings and plans for aspects of the Great Park. A city staffer was set up at each, ready to respond to citizen questions, suggestions and complaints about a variety of Great Park topics. Because of the nature of the setup, it was difficult for all but the first person or two in line to hear the conversations at each station, though city staff was present at each, taking notes about the conversations.
Some of the more intriguing ideas suggested for uses not often discussed included a dad advocating for a “monster” playground that would include active uses such as BMX and skateboarding venues, and an outdoor gymnastics area where kids and adults could practice tumbling, cheerleading, acrobatics and gymnastics on facilities dedicated to those activities, including “traveling rings” (Google it!). Both groups made impassioned arguments that these activities are already enjoyed by thousands of kids who live in our community, and yet there’s no good place to practice, perform and enjoy them within the city. They also made a strong case that the activities would draw visitors, and offer entertainment and engagement for families and others enjoying the park.
Speaking of enjoying the park, several at the event made pleas for more passive uses in the plans for the Cultural Terrace, with comparisons to Central Park in NYC. They hope that there will be places to walk and wander, to have a picnic and enjoy vast spaces unimpeded by automobiles or active uses. One hoped there would be a loop trail like the Reservoir Loop and other trails and tracks at Central Park.
Two groups were impossible to miss at the gathering, making their presence and feelings known, despite the lack of public comment opportunities. The first was a number of people wearing Pretend City Children’s Museum stickers.
Pretend City is an Irvine nonprofit that does powerful work in education through its interactive exhibits. They have created a kid-sized city inside the walls of a commercial building in an Irvine Spectrum office park near the old Irvine Meadows location. It’s a space that the organization has outgrown, and many would love to see their important community activities moved to a new and expanded facility at the Great Park, perhaps in one of the old hangars or military buildings that may be part of the Cultural Terrace.
Irvine Meadows and a new amphitheater at the Great Park was also a topic of much discussion. Perhaps the most vocal and enthusiastic group at the meeting were 30 or so members of Orange County Local 504, union members from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The union members have helped musicians make music at the Irvine amphitheater since opening night in 1981. They’re eager to support proposals for both an interim and permanent new live music amphitheater that have been offered by FivePoint and Live Nation.
That proposed use of land to provide live music and adjacent to the Great Park seems to be among the most popular of the many proposals discussed at the meeting. FivePoint and Live Nation have partnered to build a 12,000-seat outdoor amphitheater adjacent to the Orange County Great Park in time for the 2017 summer music season. The venue, which would be located less than two miles from Irvine Meadows, is intended as an interim solution to keep the music playing while plans are completed to build a permanent amphitheater that’s long been part of the master plan for the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace area.
At a gathering last year at the proposed location of the interim amphitheater, guests accessed the event via a red carpet, flanked on either side by walls filled with thousands of memories and messages from music fans who attended Irvine Meadows during its final season, some 30,000 of whom signed petitions and offered their emails in the effort to continue live music in the city, an effort that continues online (savelivemusicirvine.com).
The proposed interim amphitheater is subject to approval by the city of Irvine. In the application for permits, FivePoint offered to make private property owned by Heritage Fields available for the construction and operation of an interim venue for up to three years.
Preliminary plans for the Irvine venue show it to be within walking distance of the Irvine Transportation Center, a major mass transit hub for Metrolink and Amtrak passengers.
If the proposal is accepted by the city, Live Nation will design, construct and operate the outdoor facility and adjacent parking for fans, as well as concession and hospitality offerings.
In recent weeks, Irvine civic, sports and community leaders gathered at the Great Park for a groundbreaking ceremony celebrating the start of construction of the state-of-the-sport Great Park Ice Complex and practice facility. The new hockey and ice skating facility will include four sheets of ice, one of which will seat 2,500 spectators. When the new ice complex debuts in 2018, it will complement the 175-acre multi-sports parks, together creating the premier recreational and competitive sports destination in Southern California.
While at the ice facility groundbreaking, many attendees noted the new soccer stadium in the nearby Sports Park, which is now a prominent part of the Great Park skyline. The excitement is building for the next big thing at the Great Park.
Phase one of the Great Park Sports Park, under construction for the city by FivePoint, features 25 hard-surface tennis courts, seven natural turf soccer fields and five sand volleyball courts. Both the tennis and volleyball centers include championship courts with fixed seating for more than 100 spectators each. The centerpiece of phase one is the Championship Soccer Stadium with permanent seating for 2,500 spectators and grass berm seating for another 2,500 spectators. The soccer stadium will include press, hospitality and concession spaces as well.
Still to come will be a baseball complex with seven fields, including a championship field with permanent seating for more than 1,000 spectators. There will also be a softball complex with five fields and a championship venue with seating for 500 spectators.
Both baseball and softball complexes will have four batting cages each. Six synthetic turf soccer fields, four basketball courts and a pair of “flex” fields totaling nearly 12 acres for lacrosse, cricket, rugby or soccer will complete the Sports Park.
Another feature of the Great Park that is well underway is the Upper Bee Canyon and the Bosque, a 43-acre area with trees, shrubs and trails that will add significantly to the connectivity and natural amenities of the Great Park, especially for hikers, walkers and cyclists.
Irvine is a cycling city. With 301 miles of on-street bike lanes and 54 miles of bike trails separated from the city’s roads, the city is consistently rated as one of the best places to live for an active outdoor lifestyle, with much of that acclaim due to the opportunities for bicycle riding in the city.
Irvine has a silver rating as a bicycle-friendly community from the League of American Bicyclists, the highest rating of any Orange County city.
Irvine already has a bike score of 70 from walkscore.com, a group that measures how bikeable and walkable cities, neighborhoods and even apartment communities are. Irvine’s ranking is the highest in Orange County, No. 7 in the state, and 25th in the country.
In the coming months, Irvine’s bike score should go up with the addition of new bike trails and pedestrian paths that will run in and through the Orange County Great Park and the Great Park Neighborhoods. The 40-acre Bosque, a wooded area with recreation and trails, and 36-acre Upper Bee Canyon, will debut soon (rainy weather is causing some delays), adding connectivity to the already impressive cycling network in the city and greater Orange County.
More than 4 million square feet of concrete runways have been demolished at the Great Park, with most of the material being re-purposed and used to create the topography, pathways and hardscapes in areas like the Bosque.
As future generations enjoy the Great Park, let them be reminded that this great place once served its country with honor. This is where American heroes landed and took off for decades to protect us, and our freedom.
The former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro continues to evolve into a truly Great Park, now is the time to ensure that its legacy that will outlive all of us.