Orange County Great Park
Orange County Great Park
The El Toro airfield in 1993
Type Regional park Location Irvine, California Coordinates Coordinates: 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 opened and under development Website http://www.ocgp.org/
The Orange County Great Park is the official name of a plan for the public, non-aviation reuse of the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine, California. The county park will comprise just 28.8% (1,347 acres (5.45 km2)) of the 4,682 acres (18.95 km2) total that made up the old MCAS El Toro base. It is a $1.1 billion project approved by the voters of Orange County in 2002. The park opened its first attraction, a balloon (designed by Aerophile SA) ride that takes visitors to 500 feet (150 m) for a panoramic view of the construction of the park as well as views of the county, on July 14, 2007. A second attraction, the Kids Rock playground, opened on July 10, 2010.
The former air station was initially planned for development into a major international airport. Opponents of the plan challenged the need for two airports in Orange County (El Toro and John Wayne Airport) only 7 miles (11 km) apart; however the El Toro Marine Station is not a commercial airport and the nearest commercial airport to John Wayne is Ontario Airport over 30 miles (48 km) away. Concern also was expressed regarding the safety of the proposed airport since commercial aircraft would have to take off over mountain terrain where one major military transport crash had occurred over 50 years prior.
The re-use of the air station was voted on by the residents of Orange County four times. When it was announced that the airport would revert to civilian use in the early 1990s, citizens near the airport immediately opposed any continued use of the site for aviation purposes. However, in the late 1990s a majority of Orange County voters approved the use of the site for commercial aviation. In March 2000, opponents of the airport, mostly residents of wealthier Southern Orange County and who would be directly in the proposed flight paths, 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. With a large financial backing and a fear of "NIMBYism" 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.
In 2002, after 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. The history of the controversy is chronicled online by the El Toro Info Site  and in a book, Internet for Activists.
In November 2003, the city of Irvine annexed the air station property and was thus able to determine the Great Park's future by zoning.
Following the annexation of the property, the Department of the Navy held an online auction for the El Toro property. Miami- based Lennar Corporation purchased the entire property for $649,500,000 and entered into a development agreement with the City of Irvine. Under the terms of the development agreement, Lennar was granted limited development rights to build the Great Park Neighborhoods in return for land and capital that will allow the construction of the Great Park.
The agreement required Lennar to deed 1,347 acres (5.45 km2) to public ownership and contribute $200 million towards the development of the Great Park. Future property owners will contribute an additional $200 million toward the park's development.
The Great Park Plan focuses on the 1,347 acres (5.45 km2) public of the property and includes a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) canyon, a 26-acre (110,000 m2) lake, botanical gardens, a cultural terrace, lawns, performing arts venues, a sports park, and a wildlife corridor connecting the Cleveland National Forest to the Laguna Coast Wilderness. At 1,347 acres (5.45 km2), the Great Park will be larger than New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and San Diego's Balboa Park.
When completed, the park will be the largest municipal park in Orange County. 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.
Recently however, in the midst of a U.S. housing crisis, Lennar has struggled to fulfill its part of the bargain, including delayed construction of planned housing and of a 'community facilities district'.
In addition to trees that will be moved and replanted on the base, Southern California Edison has committed to contributing 50,000 trees to the Great Park.
Features of the park
- 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long
- A 60-foot (18 m) depth and a cooler climate deeper in the canyon
- A lake for boating
- Streams and pools will run the length of the canyon, which carries Agua Chinon Creek south-southeast into San Diego Creek
- Bridges will cross the canyon at different points including the "Bridge of 2 Towers" which will provide a zig-zag path across the widest portion of the canyon
- 122 acres (0.49 km2)
- Proposed 60 to 70 acres (280,000 m2)
- A garden bridge designed by architect Enrique Norten will connect the botanical garden to the cultural terrace.
- 165 acres (0.67 km2)
- Proposed amenities include soccer fields, bat and ball fields, a skateboard complex, rock climbing wall, field house
- A great lawn
- A 3-mile (4.8 km) long corridor for wildlife migration
- The corridor will link Cleveland National Forest in the north with Crystal Cove State Park in the south.
- Great Park Air Museum
- Vintage aircraft on the remnants of the runway
- Will be Orange County's largest golf course, at 27 holes, possibly 45
- Former El Toro Golf Course being renovated
- Irvine (Amtrak station) at the southwest corner of the parkland
- 3D GIS Interactive Model
- Orange County Great Park Ambassadors Blog
- Orange County Great Park
- Orange Count Great Park Conservancy
- Orange County Register's Great Park information
- Great Park
- Mia Lehrer interview
- LA Times, Column One, Oct 1, 2009: "Is Great Park a soaring vision or just hot air?" by Paloma Esquivel
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