Remember the classic 1980s TV commercials where the old lady asks, “Where’s the beef?” That’s pretty much how a lot of people feel about the Orange County Great Park in Irvine: Where’s the park?
The park celebrates its sixth anniversary this year. It’s got a giant orange balloon ride, a carousel, a farmer’s market and a playground. A community garden and soccer fields will debut next year. Irvine Mayor and Great Park board member Sukhee Kang says they’ve developed only a fraction the planned 1,300 acres, but it's now due to open two new sections Saturday.
"It’s easy to say 225 acres is not a lot. If you compare with Disneyland, it’s only 160 acres. So [in a short time] the Great Park Corporation, the city has done a lot," Kang said.
The nearly 20-acre North Lawn and 8-acre Palm Court Arts Complex open this weekend. They’ll house sports fields — due to open next year — and an artist-in-residence program and art gallery. And they double the amount of developed space in the park. Great Park Board Chair Beth Krom says it may seem like the development is slow. But she points to Central Park in New York City.
"Our park alone will be twice the size of Central Park in New York. If it took Central Park 70 years to come to full fruition, I think that the fact that we started this project six years ago and that we already have the facilities that we have — the carousel — that we’re drawing almost half a million visitors a year, suggests that we actually have been more successful in activating this park than those who built Central Park and those who built Golden Gate Park or Balboa Park," she said.
But Great Park Board Member Jeff Lalloway questions how money’s been spent on the park. And he isn’t happy that it’s taken about a half decade just to plan.
"I wish they ... had been more focused on actually building the park, instead of spending so much money planning. So, yeah, I’ve been critical of the fact that we don’t have more infrastructure and more actual park built at this point," Lalloway said.
Great Park board members say the slow economy didn’t help. It delayed the removal of parts of the old air base — like the mile-long runways. And now, Lalloway says the state’s throwing a big monkey wrench into plans by trying to eliminate redevelopment agencies. The Great Park is considered a redevelopment area.
"This is a monstrous mess. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what’s coming out of Sacramento still. There might still be changes. And one of the bills includes the ability to ... still have your redevelopment agency but pay money to Sacramento in order to have the privilege of having a redevelopment agency. So, we don’t know what it means," Lalloway said.
But they do know a new $70 million section of the park opens this weekend, something a lot of people in Irvine and Orange County have been waiting to see for a long time.