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The Block Gets Off to Rousing Start as Big Crowds Show Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The opening of The Block at Orange, a massive entertainment complex, brought throngs of visitors Thursday from the midmorning ribbon-cutting long into the evening.

By early evening, cars circled the parking lot--trailing those on their way out--in order to find spaces not in the hinterlands of the sprawling, $165-million center that offers more than 100 shops and restaurants, 30 movie screens and a skateboard park.

While traffic on the Garden Grove Freeway was typically slow, the just-expanded lanes of The City Drive seemed to handle opening day traffic with little problem.

But traffic managers for the city of Orange have not breathed a sigh of relief yet. City officials plan to closely monitor what they call a “volatile” situation in the area around The Block within a few miles of the UCI Medical Center, Orange County’s juvenile court, Theo Lacy Branch Jail and Edison International Field.

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Projections have the daily trips taken on The City Drive nearly doubling from about 30,000 to almost 60,000. Hamid Bahadori, a city traffic engineer, said the exit for the westbound Garden Grove Freeway at The City Drive--the most direct route to the new complex--has long been a mess.

Plans to fix the problem, made worse by the proximity to the Orange Freeway junction, are now underway but the project may take four to five years to complete, he said.

Those who came out for opening day had only minor complaints about finding a place to park. The Block has 5,000 parking places and agreements with area businesses to make an additional 3,000 spaces available after hours.

An estimated 12,000 people on Thursday took part in AMC’s free movie day, said AMC Vice President Dick Walsh, who made a special trip to be at the opening of his company’s largest multiplex.

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Some visitors who were there avoided the freeways altogether, opting for side streets.

“No, no, no, no, no,” said Bill Bell of Tustin, when asked if he took the Garden Grove Freeway to get to The Block. “That’s terrible. I wouldn’t get on that, especially not today.”

Early in the day, some said the true test was yet to come.

“It’s been all right so far,” said tow-truck driver Russ Welch, who had been out patrolling the parking lot since 4 a.m. But Thursday night proved to be more of a madhouse, he said, “and this weekend is going to be even worse; that’s when we’ll really see how this goes.”

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