Celebrating Summer and the Great Park’s Progress
The first 53 acres of the Sports Park opens August 5, with subsequent phases to follow. The FivePoint Amphitheatre debuts later this summer, and for three seasons will bridge the live music gap between Irvine Meadows closing and a permanent amphitheater being approved and built at the Great Park.
The groundbreaking for the $100 million Great Park Ice and Sports Complex was earlier this year, and work on what promises to be an incredible facility is underway.
And, most importantly, a final resting site for Orange County veterans was approved for the strawberry fields site, a beautiful piece of land that was once part of the MCAS El Toro base, and will undoubtedly be added to be within the official boundaries of the Great Park in the future.
Much still remains to be done, certainly. Most significantly a plan for the critical Cultural Terrace. But after an era of divisiveness and criticism about what’s not at the Great Park, let’s take time this summer to celebrate what is, and what’s soon to come.
Many of us have learned in life that great things take time. At specific moments a significant project may seem to be moving slowly. Progress may seem glacial, or nonexistent.
But later, we realize that in the grand scheme, the results were worth the wait.
Let’s take a quick review of the Great Park timeline, minus the controversies. The Marine Corps Air Station El Toro closed in 1999. Lennar bought 3,718 acres of the former El base in 2005 for $649.5 million. Some 200 acres were developed, including existing sports fields, the Palm Court gallery and the Great Park Balloon, Great Park Visitors Center, the carousel, playground, etc.
Over the next several years, significant funds were spent on design documents, pricey PR contracts, and other expenditures. Controversy ensued, the economy tanked, state redevelopment funds were eliminated, city elections were held.
In 2013, the Irvine City Council reached an agreement with FivePoint to develop 688 acres of the Great Park.
The groundbreaking of the 688 acres took place a year later during the “Runways to Greenways” event in 2014. Much of the initial work involved demolition of runways, buildings and other remnants of the base on the 688 acres, and the construction of underground infrastructure.
Now, this summer we’ll see the first fruit of the labor of the past three years, when the first phase of the Sports Park opens to the public.
One could argue (and since this is a space for opinion, we will) that more progress has been made on the Great Park in the past three years than in the decade prior to that.
A decade or two from now, when the Orange County Great Park is widely recognized as one of the most important urban parks in the country, few will recall the details we now obsess over.
Our proof? Studying the other great urban parks in our country. Most had their share of controversy, and took much longer to create than many might think: far longer than the Orange County Great Park.
The 3,000 acres that would become L.A.’s Griffith Park was donated to the city of Los Angeles in 1896. The city didn’t annex the land until 1910, the Greek Theater opened in 1929, the Griffith Observatory in 1935, the L.A. Zoo in 1966 and the Autry Museum of the American West in 1989.
The land for NYC’s Central Park was purchased in 1853. It took until 1873 for the original parkland to be substantially completed, but that was a much different place than the one we know today. Children weren’t allowed on the grass. Sheep grazed there instead. The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened at its Central Park location in 1880.
Robert Moses added 19 playgrounds and 12 ball fields to Central Park in 1934, after years of neglect had left the park in disrepair. Tavern on the Green also opened in 1934, as did The Conservatory Garden. The Great Lawn was added at the site of a former reservoir in 1936. One ice rink opened in 1949, the second in 1966. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum across from Central Park opened in 1959.
San Diego’s Balboa Park began when 1,400 acres of land for a city park was set aside in 1868. It took until the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition for most of the architecture the park is known for to be built, and for it to be renamed Balboa Park. The San Diego Zoo was established in 1916. What would become the San Diego Museum of Art opened at the park in 1926, and expanded in 1966. The San Diego Natural History Museum opened in 1933, the Old Globe Theatre debuted in 1935, as did the buildings around the Pan American Plaza. The new Veterans Memorial Garden was dedicated in 2005.
What do all those dates mean? That great parks take time. One could argue they’re never really finished, as subsequent generations make changes, improvements and add attractions.
Which is not meant as cover for our city council and civic stakeholders to take a century to complete the Great Park. But let’s take a moment to celebrate that something special is happening at our Great Park this summer.
We suggest Irvine citizenry get outside this season to see that progress for yourself. Visit the first phase of the Sports Park on opening day or thereafter, kick a ball around with your kids or grandkids, watch or play beach volleyball on beautiful sand courts, or pick up your tennis racquet and have a game at the new Great Park Courts.
The bright future of Irvine is dawning now, all around us, so let’s get outside and enjoy it.