This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.
The City of Irvine is looking to spend $13.8 million on a parking lot in the Great Park for the Wild Rivers Water Park that will be open roughly four months out of the year, while city staff expects the amusement park to payoff in about 10 years.
That’s $2 million more than what was originally planned, accounting for additional costs to move a massive pile of dirt on the site from a previous park development.
On July 27, Irvine City Council members unanimously voted — without discussion — to approve the plans and seek bids from contractors to relocate a 17-acre by 8-foot-tall pile of dirt while building a parking lot for the Wild Rivers Water Park, which is set to open around summer 2022.
When asked why this item was on the consent calendar, elected City Councilmember Anthony Kuo said he and the council planned for the costs years ago and didn’t feel the need to further discuss the matter.
Great Park Manager Steve Torelli said the parking lot costs won’t be shouldered by Irvine taxpayers.
Instead, the parking lot construction money comes mostly from a fund stemming from a $292 million legal settlement with the State of California related to debts owed by the city’s former redevelopment agency and property tax owed by the State, according various staff reports.
A variety of funding sources have contributed to a number of different projects within the Great Park over the years.
The Great Park already takes tax money from homeowners through what’s known as a Mello Roos tax, which is supposed to be used for the neighborhood’s backbone infrastructure.
Over $250 million of those funds are set to go toward a new home for USA Water Polo, with no specifics on what the public’s access to the center would be.
According to the lease, Wild Rivers will pay the city either $550,000 or 4.5% of its annual gross revenue — whichever is higher — for both the water park land and the parking lot during its operation.
This should pay off the parking lot within roughly 10 years, according to city staff.
The approximately 1,200 parking spaces built will be reserved for the customers of Wild Rivers during the summer months.
There will be a fee for parking during water park operation hours, which non-customers could pay if they wanted to park there, said Wild Rivers owner and operator Mike Riedel.
During the off season, the city can use the parking lot for overflow parking at the Great Park.
The water park may also host periodic events during the off season, according to the city council’s discussion in April when the project was initially approved, but the exact nature of those events remains unclear.
City council members initially agreed to fund and share the parking lot with the amusement park company in 2018 so Wild Rivers wouldn’t have to take up existing parking space for its own lot, which otherwise would be empty the majority of the year, Torelli said.
Wild Rivers Water Park broke ground earlier this month after years of uncertain logistics. It is located within the cultural terrace of the Great Park on the corner of Skyhawk and Great Park Blvd.
The theme park is set to open as early as summer 2022.
Wild Rivers isn’t new to Orange County. It once served as a summer tradition for many Southern Californians. The rides, slides and pools opened in 1986 at the previous site of Lion Country Safari, a drive-thru zoo and amusement park.
In 2011, the water park had its last season.
Despite community pushback, the park’s landlord, The Irvine Company, decided not to extend the park’s lease — instead opting to build apartments.
The site now houses Orange County’s biggest apartment complex, Los Olivos. But the park vowed to reopen and has been eyeing the Great Park for over a decade.
Initially the waterpark was slated to reopen in the southeast section of the Great Park managed by the US Navy.
The land, which used to be the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, couldn’t be turned over until the Navy cleaned up all potentially hazardous materials from the area — a process which has dragged on for decades.
Once city staff were informed of the delay, they decided to move the water park elsewhere in 2020.
Despite the huge pile of soil, this was the only possible spot for the Wild Rivers and parking lot, according to Torelli.
“All the other land was kind of spoken for or in limbo at that point in time,” Torelli said.
The City Council will further discuss funding for the stockpile relocation at a joint meeting with the Great Park Staff August 10.
Jillie Herrold is a reporting intern at Voice of OC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Noah Biesiada contributed to this story.