The development of the Orange County Great Park, which will be built on the former El Toro Marine Base, took an important step forward recently when three proposed park designs were selected as finalists.
After the air base officially closed in 1999, there were different ideas on how the land should be used. In 2003, the city of Irvine successfully won control of the marine base, preventing it from becoming the site of an airport and instead proposing the creation of a community park similar to New York’s Central Park, but on a larger scale.
In February 2005, the Navy announced it would sell the land in a silent auction. The Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s leading commercial and residential developers, bought the 3,700 acres for $649.5 million. As part of the terms of this purchase, the Lennar Corporation gave the city of Irvine 1,300 acres and $400 million toward the construction of the park.
The Great Park Organization was created to oversee the plans and visual aspects of the park. They invited 40 architectural firms, both international and local, to propose ideas for the master plan. Twenty four proposals were submitted.
The plans were narrowed to seven by a group of architects. These seven designs were showcased at Irvine City Hall for the public to view and comment. The public also had an opportunity to offer their input on the OCGP Web site in an online poll. Formal presentations of each of the master designs were given to the OCGP Operating Board at Irvine City Hall.
The seven architectural firms were EMBT of Barcelona, Spain; Royston Hanamoto Alley and Abey of Mill Valley, Calif.; Ken Smith Landscape Architect of New York; Abalos and Herreros of Madrid, Spain; Hargreaves Associates of San Francisco, Calif.; Olin Partnerships of Philadelphia, Penn.; and Richard Haag Associates of Seattle, Wash.
Each firm presented a conceptual master design for the 1,300 acres based on guidelines presented to them by the OCGP Operating Board.
Finalist EMBT proposed a hilly landscape structured around a central lake, with a focus on the history of the land before it was home to a military base.
The proposal from second finalist RHAA focuses on the historical military setting with reflecting pools that symbolize the former runways and other iconic elements of a military base. It also proposes an ecological energy plan to run the facilities of the park by using geothermal fuel and solar energy.
Ken Smith, the third finalist, suggested making three parks within one: the Great Park Canyon, the Habitat Park and the Fields and Military Memorial. This three-inone plan is intended to represent the surrounding region and to maintain an educational aspect for wildlife and military history. It will also provide patrons with an opportunity to see the entire park on a bicycle or in a hot air balloon.
Each plan incorporates the theme of linking the ocean to the mountains. They also intend the park to be a cultural link for the community through education, historical significance of the area, entertainment and environment. There are also similar structures in each of the three plans such as an amphitheater, a museum, sports fields, picnic areas and hiking paths.
‘The final plan will be based on reference checks, the jury of architects and public input,’ said Marsha Burgess, manager of communications and public affairs for the Great Park Organization. ‘The board will also visit previous projects by these firms. The board will reconvene in the next couple of months to announce the final plan.’
Once a proposal is chosen, Lennar will work with the designers to integrate the park into the surrounding community.
The Lennar Corporation plans to have the park be the center of a residential community that will also be built on the former base. The Great Park Community will consist of homes, apartments, shopping centers and businesses all built by the Lennar Corporation.