The rhinoceroses, giraffes and lions left center stage at Lion Country Safari seven months ago, but the Irvine park's next act still is at least a few months away.
The planned water amusement park, tournament-level softball diamonds and motocross course have not materialized, said Lion Country President Harry Shuster, because the process of getting city permits has taken taking longer than expected.
Shooting for Next Summer
Park officials had hoped to open the amusement park as early as this summer, Shuster said, but now they are shooting for next summer.
"We frankly thought it (the permit process) would be faster, but perhaps we were being a little optimistic," Shuster said.
"There's no question" the three new attractions, along with some carry-over attractions from the days when motorists could drive their cars among elephants, tigers and other exotic animals, will bail the 100-acre park out of its financial difficulties, he said. Lion Country leases the land from the Irvine Co., and that lease has another 12 years.
The five proposed softball diamonds, which will be leased by the amateur U.S. Slo-Pitch Assn., are expected to attract state and national competitions, Shuster said. They still might be open by August, he added.
Pat Haley, an administrative assistant in Irvine's Community Development Department, said the projects have been delayed because Lion Country officials erroneously assumed they could undertake the expansion under their existing land use permits.
The city soon will determine whether the park must complete an environmental impact report, which would take four to six months, or undertake less time-consuming improvements that would take only about two months, she said.
Meanwhile, Shuster said, the park has pared losses that reached more than $100,000 in 1983 by selling its 250 animals and reducing a staff that once numbered more than 80 down to about seven.
Children's Day Camp
To raise money, the park will continue to operate a children's day camp on the site this summer and rent its grounds to business and community groups for picnics. Shuster said that groups with a total of 70,000 picnickers already are booked for this season.
Although the lions and tigers are gone, the new park's name will be the same as the old, Shuster said, minus the word Safari.