On Tuesday, May 23, the City of Irvine will host a groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate the beginning of the city’s first phase of construction for its new $1 billion Great Park Framework plan. 

Approved in July, the new framework plan encompasses approximately 300 acres, and will bring 15 new features into the park, including a veterans park and memorial garden, sprawling botanical gardens, water features and lakes, and a 14,000 seat outdoor amphitheater.

Construction will begin with the demolition and remediation of the ARDA site, which is located south of Cadence, between Bosque and Agua Chinon near the Great Park.

As the city prepares to get underway with the most costly project in Irvine’s history, Irvine Weekly spoke with Mike Carroll, Chairman of the Great Park Board of Directors, for some insight on how this project will impact the legacy of the city’s long standing master plan, and how Irvine plans to maintain this vision into the future.  

Carroll, who also serves on the Irvine City Council, told us he was thrilled for this momentous occasion. From his perspective, Carroll believes that the opportunity to design and build a major metropolitan park is the opportunity of a lifetime. 

“This really will take Irvine to the next level, for me. To have the opportunity to help lead the efforts with my colleagues has been the honor of a lifetime,” he said. “I believe on the other side, when things are actually constructed and completed, we will go from what is currently a premier recreational destination to a place that will be unprecedented and unequaled as compared to any other or municipal amenity in the United States.”

While Carroll and his colleagues on the Irvine City Council have the opportunity to usher in this major metropolitan investment in 2023, the time will come when new leadership will take over in Irvine. 

 Asked how the current Great Park Board of Directors and City Council can ensure the vision of the new Great Park framework will stay intact and remain aligned with Irvine’s long standing master plan in the future, Carroll referenced the city’s ability to continually work with the community to preserve aspects of military history in Irvine. 

“The Great Park site is a historic military base, with a rich history. Probably one of the largest community battles in Orange County’s entire history occurred over whether that land — that decommissioned military base — was to become a major international airport, or something else,” Carroll explained. “Then in 2002, you have countywide Measure W, where residents said ‘no, we want this to be a municipal park, to have more of a community element’ — really, it starts there.”

While decades have passed since Orange County voters adopted Measure W, Carroll said the ripple effects of preserving that land are just beginning to take shape. 

“The transformation from what it was when it was decided that the people wanted a park, and the conversion, has been a process that just in the last few years has focused on careful planning, environmental remediation and extensive community input as to what the people wanted to see out there,” he said. “What we try to do is take those things and align them with the park’s development with those needs and desires of the local community.”  

He continued: “What I think we have as a result is the development of this whole area and the whole build out — which will be close to $1 billion — will be built over a period of time. But that does reflect that community, does reflect the input, and should be something that is truly lasting. And should, in my opinion, stand the test of future city councils.” 

Echoing Carroll’s comments, Irvine Public Information Officer Kristina Perrigoue explained that the City of Irvine has relied on decades of community feedback as it pertains to park amenities found within the new framework plan.

“I think the really big takeaway is that this is all driven by community feedback and input,” Perrigoue said. “As it pertains to ensuring the vision will actually come to fruition — we’ve been doing community engagement since 2005, we continue to do large scale community engagement and outreach efforts, and we will be asking for continual feedback throughout this entire process.”

Carroll admits that this process has not been easy for himself and other elected officials in Irvine, but is excited to bring in new development that he hopes will be appreciated on a national scale.  

“The Great Park has become a premier recreational destination. We have about 2 million unique visitors currently [per year]. At 1,300 acres, it’s already twice the size of New York’s Central Park. It’s bigger than Golden Gate Park,” he said. “It’s really exciting. We really have, as a city council, come together — all of us — after a year of intensive planning and design to launch this $1 billion investment to become the greatest metropolitan park in the United States.”

In terms of funding, the Irvine City Council approved more than $455 million in financing for the Great Park Framework Plan in March. The funds will be generated through a series of bond issuances through the next seven years. 

The $455 million will come with interest, totaling approximately $1.2 billion in the next 30 years. The total cost will be split between the city and developer Heritage Fields.

With the split of funding between Heritage Fields, Irvine will assume a $625 million obligation. Heritage Fields will assume $600 million. 

The bonds will be split among three areas inside the Great Park.

A $170 million bond will be designated for Area 6, which is known as Cadence Park and is approximately 220 acres. Currently, Cadence Park is home to 1,007 single-family residential units, and a half dozen undeveloped commercial parcels which are owned by Heritage Fields. 

Irvine will designate $220 million for 252 acres in Area 7, which is known as the Altair, and located between Irvine Blvd. and Portola Parkway. An additional $65 million will be designated for Area 9, known as Novel Park. Area 9 is approximately 44 acres, and is located between Interstate 133 and Ridge Valley Parkway.

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