The housing market’s resurgence could jump-start one of Southern California’s most ambitious but long-stymied projects: Irvine’s Great Park.
Conceived more than a decade ago — and designed to span twice the size of New York City’s Central Park — the project has encountered one disaster after another, including the housing market collapse, the bankruptcy of lender Lehman Bros. and the elimination of the state’s redevelopment agencies, reports today’s Los Angeles Times.
“The slow pace of work has inspired sharp criticism, in part because Irvine spent almost all of the project’s initial allocation of $200 million on marketing, concerts, fairs and planning. Now, with the housing market in a healthy recovery, the project’s developer has offered to finance and build a big chunk of the park in exchange for the city nearly doubling the number of homes he can build.
“The way out of the economic mess is going to be public-private partnerships,” said Emile Haddad, chief executive of FivePoint Communities, the city’s development partner. “This is an excellent example.” Haddad has offered to build 688 acres of the park for $174 million, in exchange for City Council approval of an additional 4,600 homes. He already has approval to build about 4,900.
“The city would get a 176-acre sports complex — more than twice the size of Disneyland — a 45-acre park area known as the Bosque area, a 227-acre golf course, a 35-acre canyon and a 178-acre wildlife corridor set aside as a natural reserve. Jeff Lalloway, chair of Great Park Corp. and Irvine’s mayor pro tem, said he believes that the city and Haddad will strike a deal, though he has some concerns about the long-term operating costs of the park. “I am generally confident,” Lalloway said. For now, the first phase of Haddad’s Great Park Neighborhoods, one of the region’s largest residential developments, has begun sales on the northern edge of the future park. More than 700 homes are planned for this phase. In the first weekend the Pavilion Park neighborhood opened, an estimated 28,000 people toured model homes by eight home builders, according to FivePoint.Proceeds from the sale of homes will help finance the park. Much of the infrastructure needed — such as sewers and streets — would be shared between the park and the housing development and would be FivePoint’s responsibility to install. Situated on the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, the park site is now mostly a series of fenced-in, aging military structures and old runways. Only a fraction of the park has been built, including a free balloon ride and some other facilities.”