Apartments replacing Wild Rivers

A new series of apartment homes are scheduled to replace the longstanding waterslides and wave pools when Irvine's Wild Rivers closes its gates for good at the end of the season.

The 26-year-old waterpark and nearby Camp James, a summer day camp for children, will have to close or relocate at the end of their lease extensions Oct. 2.

The Irvine Co., which owns both parcels of land, has plans to eventually develop about 1,700 apartments there.

"This parcel of land was always meant to transition to a more a permanent use," Erin Freeman, Irvine Co. spokeswoman, said via e-mail. "Over the past several years, the Irvine Co. has worked with the city and community on a land-use plan for this area that would ensure the city's long-term economic health."

"The Irvine Co. has always been up front with each about our future plans. We intend to honor this final lease extension," the statement continued. "We wish both businesses continued success and hope they each find a suitable place to relocate."

The area was rezoned for residential use by the Irvine City Council in 2006, and the Irvine Co. chose to end the lease agreements in 2007.

However, both tenants were allowed to remain an additional four years. In that time, Wild Rivers has been unable to secure a property to relocate.

"When you start looking at Orange County and large parcels of land, there is not many that are undeveloped," Wild Rivers President Mike Riedel said.

However, the waterpark has been working with the Great Park Board since 2007 about relocating into the emerging park space.

The waterpark's 1,200 seasonal employees — 50% of whom are local youths returning this year from last season — will be offered jobs at the new location when and if the park is able to relocate in a reasonable time frame, Riedel said.

"We are the largest youth employer in Orange County, and when those jobs go away, they go away," Riedel said. "It's really hard with all the changes in employment numbers. We're seeing adults taking a lot of jobs that youths used to take, so youth employment has become pretty sparse."

The park is preparing to submit a feasibility study to the Great Park Board, Riedel said.

He hopes to see some progress within a year or two.

"We appreciate all support from the city and our relationship with the Irvine Co. has been great," Riedel said. "We are just trying to figure out a way to make this work for everyone."

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