Irvine breaks ground on ‘Framework Plan’ projects for Great Park
The next phase in the development of the Great Park in Irvine got underway this week, as city officials gathered to mark the beginning of construction for 300 acres of new amenities and features.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the “Great Park Framework Plan” was held in the shadow of an air traffic control tower at the ARDA site on the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro on Tuesday.
Before its conclusion, the well-attended event had witnessed the demolition of an old, blue hangar, part of the military base being transformed into a 1,300-acre park, a project now expected to cost $1 billion.
Councilman Mike Carroll, chairman of the Great Park board, said the scope of the development will place it among the largest municipal parks in the nation, making the Great Park larger than Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Balboa Park in San Diego.
“Through 2023 and 2024, the next thing up will be the project of demolishing everything,” Carroll said. “We will be tearing down buildings, removing infrastructure and preparing the site for its grand transformation. These demolition activities mark an important milestone in the project’s progress, and they signify the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the arc of Irvine’s history.
“On the numbers, 77 structures and approximately 180,000 square feet of total building area will be removed from the northern section of this park.”
Carroll also touched on the history of the land, including the debate over its future after the military base closed in 1999.
“One of the great development battles in the history of the city of Irvine ensued,” Carroll said. “Should this land be a community municipal park for the benefit of the community, or should it be an international airport like LAX?
“Some of you here … may recall the intense grassroots campaign to block the plan for an international airport like LAX, and through the efforts of many in Irvine, … we’re here to enjoy what we have. Measure W was placed, based on their efforts, on the ballot in the year 2002, and the residents of Orange County … voted that a vision of a great metropolitan park would prevail over an international airport by a trouncing margin of 58% to 42%.”
Councilman Larry Agran, the vice chairman of the Great Park board, thanked citizens who have publicly supported the idea of honoring veterans with a memorial park and gardens at the ARDA site.
“We began this effort in 2013, in real earnest, and there have been a lot of ups and downs since then,” Agran said. “But it was really the work of unsung heroes, citizens, many of whom are here, who circulated an all-important initiative petition that declared and made as a matter of law the reality that this land, these 125 acres, the so-called ARDA site, would be the site of a wonderful veterans memorial park, gardens and cemetery.
“The cemetery issue is now being decided elsewhere in Sacramento, but for now, we are about the business of building this wonderful, 125-acre veterans memorial park, including a wonderful perimeter park with trees and trails, a memorial forest, memorial gardens, [and] installations commemorating the service and sacrifice of so many that have served on this former Marine Corps air station base.”
A large crowd of veterans and supporters showed up to Tuesday’s ceremony, including Evin Planto, the commander for American Legion Newport Harbor Post 291 in Newport Beach.
Planto, a 30-year Army veteran, said Tuesday was his first visit to the airbase, adding, “It’s great to see what’s going on and what they’re doing, not only for the park, but also for the veterans.”
A public library, botanical gardens and a 14,000-seat permanent amphitheater that will replace the temporary FivePoint Amphitheatre are among the projects included in the Great Park Framework plan.
Two new lakes, an arboretum and additional open space in the form of a meadow will be created for the public’s enjoyment. There will also be new food and beverage options coming to the area.
The Great Park already features a sports complex, which is set to see the addition of an aquatics center, Great Park Ice, Palm Court Arts Complex, the iconic Great Park Balloon and a Wild Rivers Water Park that opened last year.
“What we do in parks is we bring communities together,” Khan said. “We offer opportunity for families, individuals, seniors [and] children to build memories, and what a great place to build a memory right here at the Great Park.”
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