Chairwoman focuses on Great Park's growth in speech

IRVINE — Orange County Great Park Corp. Board Chairwoman Beth Krom delivered the State of the Park address to a packed house Thursday morning.

Krom highlighted the park's ongoing growth and Saturday's sixth-anniversary celebration, which will unveil the North Lawn — a mixed-use activities field the size of three soccer fields — and the Palm Court Arts Complex.

"If timing is everything, this is a great time to be at the helm of this extraordinary project," the Irvine councilwoman said. "What we have achieved, and what we will achieve in the months and years ahead, owes greatly to the dedication of our corporation board, the talent of our staff and consultants, the quality of our partnerships, and the unique public-private partnership we have with our development partners, Five Point Communities."

Krom pointed to the already-underway $70-million Western Sector Development Plan. The park will increase from 27.5 acres in 2005 to more than 225 acres by next year, she said.

The address also compared the longterm development of New York City's Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

"Building a great metropolitan park takes vision, resources and time," Krom said. "No great public initiative has been realized without sustained determination, the ability to transcend the challenges that inevitably come when something of a grand nature and scale is undertaken."

Great Park critics have long maintained that the project has too little to show for its funds already spent.

In contrast to Krom's positive outlook, fellow board member Jeffrey Lalloway issued a response to the speech.

"Be certain, I want to see the Great Park built … but if we're ever going to see that dream become a reality, we have to sharpen our focus, tighten our budget and start getting it done," Lalloway said via email. "This is a project 10 years in the making with $200 million spent.

"Yet there's very little out there, and still a whole lot of planning and studying going on. Our first priority should be actual construction of the Great Park."

Although construction of the park's Western Sector is happening, Lalloway criticized the board's history of overspending on conceptual plans and studies, rather than placing the bulk of funds into building and development.

He also criticized the recent approval of a no-bid contract of more than $300,000 to San Francisco-based Strada Investment Group, a real estate and investment firm.

Lalloway said he would be out at the event Saturday to congratulate his colleagues, but would be feeling "mixed emotions."

"I'm still concerned about finances, but [am] very happy and excited that we are opening [a] huge area for the public this weekend," he said Friday.

Krom concluded her address with an original poem in which she depicts the park as "not just a park, but a gathering spot."

"In the heart of Orange County, under skies big and blue… The Orange County Great Park / It's all about you," she recited.

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