4,700-acre Great Park Combines Recreation With Education

After the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station closed on July 2, 1999, many groups proposed different uses for the 4,700-acre land. Some wanted to see a large airport built there, while the city of Irvine envisioned a metropolitan park.
The base had already been annexed by the city of Irvine in 2003 but has since been waiting for a land developer to purchase the land from the Navy. Recently, the Lennar Corporation purchased all four parcels of the base for $649.5 million, putting to rest any ideas for other uses for the land. Now the city can move forward with its plans to create the Great Park.
‘The base was put on an online auction,’ explained Marsha Burgess, chief executive officer for the city of Irvine’s City Manager’s Office.
Now that the property belongs to Lennar, Burgess said that the company will work with the city of Irvine to develop the land.
‘In order to get the zoning that is most attractive, Lennar Corporation will sign a development agreement with the city of Irvine,’ Burgess said. ‘By doing that, Lennar will agree to pay the city of Irvine $200 million in developer-agreement fees and concede approximately 1,200 acres to the city of Irvine.’
The Irvine Company and Lennar Corporation are working together build the Great Park.
Larry Agran, Irvine city council member and member of the board of directors in the Great Park Governance Corporation, provided an online statement for the ambitions of the Great Park design.
‘We will have a Great Park larger than New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and San Diego’s Balboa Park combined. [It] will be developed and maintained in perpetuity with private dollars,’ Agran said.
The Great Park will offer attractions for both locals and tourists. Over 3,885 acres of the master-planned community will be dedicated to open-space uses, such as a sports park, a meadows park, an educational campus for Cal State Fullerton, an exposition center that includes museums and cultural activities, and a wildlife preserve. In addition, at the request of the city, the first cemetery in Irvine will be constructed on about 74 acres.
‘The land out there is zoned for a variety of uses [such as] educational use, residential use, limited-amount retail use, some recreational and development use, as well as open-space park land, a museum and a cultural facility,’ Burgess said.
It is these attractions that Irvine hopes will make the Great Park a tourist spot and a local attraction as well.
The property is currently in escrow between the Navy and Lennar for an estimated 113 days. Within 30 days of the closing of escrow, Lennar will sign the developer agreement with the city of Irvine and make its first payment of fees to the city that will eventually amount to $260 million.
The former Navy-owned property will contain approximately 3,625 homes and about 3 million square feet of commercial and industrial space that will allow Lennar to make a profit on its purchase and pay off its debts to both the Navy and the city of Irvine.
The price of these homes will range from $350,000 to over $2 million and are expected to be on the market by December 2008.
Some are eager to see the completion of the Great Park.
‘I look forward to the development of the Great Park, a place to have a nice romantic picnic with a date or just as a place to hang out and run,’ said Alexander Ring, a first-year chemistry major.
However, the influx of new residents and many local and outside visitors may cause more congestion in Irvine.
‘I can see the good and the bad,’ said Akshay Anand, a second-year social science major. ‘It will help the economy but will increase traffic.’
However, according to the Great Park Web site, the increase in traffic that will result from this metropolitan park, as measured by average daily trips, will be 50 percent less than what would occur if an airport was built.
Both the Navy and the city of Irvine have agreed to develop the land according to Measure W, which designates the land to be used for nonairport activities and, more specifically, for the creation of the Great Park.
The land wasn’t always designated for the Great Park initiative but was originally designated as an airport in 1994 by a previous measure until 2002, when Measure W was approved by 58 percent of voters.
‘This was based on a voter initiative that changed the regulation from an airport to a public open space and park,’ said Joseph DiMento, a professor of planning policy and design at UC Irvine. ‘Then the city negotiated to provide for uses other than the park use [like] residential and commercial development, but the park is an essential element of the development.’
The completion date of the Great Park is unknown at this time but will become clearer as the destruction of the military base begins and the construction of the Great Park’s infrastructure commences later this fall.