The Orange County Great Park is a public park located in Irvine, California with a focus on sports, agriculture, and the arts. It is a non-aviation reuse of the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro. The Orange County park will comprise just 28.8% of the total area that once made up the air base. The project was approved by the voters of Orange County in 2002 at $1.1 billion.
|Orange County Great Park|
The El Toro airfield in 1993
|Area||27.5 acres (11.1 ha) (eventually 1,347 acres (545 ha))|
|Created||July 14, 2007|
|Operated by||Orange County Great Park Corporation, city of Irvine|
|Status||Open, under development and delays|
|Public transit access||Irvine Transportation Center|
Initial proposals after the retirement of the Marine Corps Air Station included an international airport, housing, and the Great Park. In 2001, Orange County voters passed "Measure W," authorizing the former air station's use as a central park/nature preserve and multi-use development. The measure was passed, which led to the designation of the land as the Orange County Great Park.
The original plan for the infrastructure of the Great Park was virtually identical to Newport Center, with five roads connecting into a central loop road separating the park into "blocks". The design was later modified to include a large section of runway and conform more to the layout of the original base, as a reminder of its history. Most prominent in the park plans is the restoration of Agua Chinon Creek, which had been channeled underground ever since the base was built in the 1940s.
In the midst of the 2008 US housing crisis, developer Lennar struggled to fulfill its part of the bargain, including delayed construction of planned housing and of a "community facilities district."
Irvine City Council passed a vote in July 2014 for a plan that included removal of the canyon from the Great Park plan. FivePoint Communities was also given approval for 4,606 more homes near the park in exchange for $200 million to develop 688 acres (278 ha) of the park which will include golf courses, a sports park, and nature trails.
The closing of MCAS El Toro ignited a political firestorm over the eventual fate of the facility. With its existing infrastructure, some favored converting the base into an international airport. Those favoring the new airport tended to come from northern Orange County, desiring the convenience of a closer airport; and from areas in Newport Beach that are within the arrival and departure noise zones surrounding John Wayne Airport, hoping to close that airport in favor of the new one at El Toro. Those against the airport proposal were largely residents of the cities in the immediate vicinity of El Toro, such as Irvine, Lake Forest, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Dana Point, and Mission Viejo, where residents were alarmed at the idea of the aircraft noise. This even though the base operated with loud jets and other aircraft on a daily basis since its inception in 1943. The cities opposed to the airport created a joint powers authority, the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority (ETRPA) to oppose the project. They were joined in the effort by grass-roots organizations that collected record numbers of signatures on petitions to place anti-airport initiatives on the ballot and raised funds for the election campaigns. The volunteer-run El Toro Info Site was the Internet voice of the movement and one of the first political blogs.
After a lengthy debate that lasted for over a dozen years, Orange County voters rejected the commercial airport plan and designated the land for park-compatible uses. In March 2000, opponents of the airport were able to qualify for the ballot "Measure F," which required that any new construction of jails, landfills or airports would require a 2/3 majority vote. A resounding 67.3% of voters passed Measure F, effectively killing the potential airport project. In 2001, Orange County voters passed "Measure W," authorizing the former air station's use as a central park/nature preserve and multi-use development. The measure passed with 58% of the vote due to the lack of any other viable alternatives for the former site since the airport concept was effectively killed a year earlier. The re-use of the air station was voted on by the residents of Orange County four times.
The park has also become a political football in Irvine city politics, with historical proponents of the airport and opponents of the park criticizing the implementation. The current City Council commissioned a forensic audit to find mismanagement of public dollars at the park. Among the findings was a $12,000 payment to a consultant for changing one word in a groundwater report and the city paying consultants twice for the same work. As of January 2014, the city council was considering whether to issue subpoenas to compel people to testify about the project's handling.
Before the base was decommissioned in 1999 it was composed of 4,682 acres. The current plan as of 2018 is for a 688-acre park. The remaining 3,994 acres or 85% went to developers and additional city infrastructure. This is a far cry from what was originally proposed under Measure F.
Orange County Great Park was designed by a team of landscape architects led by architect Ken Smith. Smith's plan was chosen from those submitted as part of an international contest for the park's design.
The park is owned by the City of Irvine and run by the non-profit Orange County Great Park Corporation; the corporation is governed by current city council members.
The Orange County Great Park has a variety of attractions and activities centering around the fitness, agriculture, and the arts. The Great Park also has venues for special events including a restored hangar and a terraced lawn.
The Great Park Balloon is the park's signature attraction. On July 14, 2007, the balloon ride—designed by Aerophile SA—was the first attraction to open in the park. It transports visitors to a height of 500 feet (150 m) for a panoramic view of the county and the construction of the park. The balloon's gondola can fit 25-30 people; large enough to bring up a class of students.
As of May 2017, two major projects are currently under construction at the park, an ice facility and a sports complex. The ice facility had a ground breaking ceremony hosted by the NHL's Anaheim Ducks in February 2017. The 280,000 square foot (26,000 m2) facility will boast four ice sheets to support a variety of professional, youth, and adult programs including figure skating, hockey, curling, and broomball. The complex is scheduled to open in July 2018.
The sports complex construction is taking place over multiple phases. A soccer stadium, volleyball courts, tennis courts, and a playground are being constructed over 53 acres (21 ha) as part of phase one. Phase two will expand the complex to 175 acres (71 ha) and include a baseball stadium; turf fields for soccer, football, rugby, or lacrosse; basketball courts; and additional baseball, softball, and soccer fields. The project is estimated to be completed in 2018.
The Cultural Terrace is another section of the park currently in the planning stage. It is located in the southeast part of the park and covers 248 acres (100 ha). The City of Irvine is considering an amphitheater, museums, a library, and a water park for this new section of the park. Wild Rivers, a water park, is seeking to occupy 30 acres of the Cultural Terrace. Wild Rivers ran for 25 years further south in Irvine until its lease expired in 2011. The Irvine City Council approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Wild Rivers in June 2017. If planning goes smoothly, the water park is projected to break ground in summer 2018 and open by summer 2019.