Over the next two months, Irvine residents will have their biggest chance in years to give their thoughts on the future of the Great Park, following a series of development delays. 

On Tuesday, Irvine City Council members approved a series of new outreach efforts and design projects.

The Great Park is Orange County’s largest civic construction project, and has been in development for nearly 20 years since the closure and sale of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station that once stood on that land. 

Now, the council is going back to the drawing board on the park’s master plan for the third time, taking a new round of ideas for projects and approving multiple new contracts to get construction started on the Cultural Terrace. 

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The council approved a contract with IBI Group for Architecture and Engineering Services to help redesign over 440,000 square feet of the remaining old base and 30 acres of open space into the Cultural Terrace, but the final costs remain unclear. 

Originally, the contractor asked for $7.2 million to complete the proposed design for the park and set the city up to go straight into construction. But the council had some concerns over the high price tag. 

“I think we’re all excited to move forward on the Cultural Terrace, but I’m of the mindset I don’t want to spend a lot of money and not be able to deliver,” Khan said at the meeting. “We’ve seen that in the past with plans and plans and plans and then we’re not able to deliver.” 

Since it was first conceived, the Great Park has turned into a political football while raking in hundreds of millions in tax dollars for construction without many of the originally promised amenities.

Years later, there are still hundreds of acres left to develop. 

The Cultural Terrace was one of the earliest proposed sectors of the park, but has never broken ground because the Navy still owns infrastructure under that portion of the park. 

Because of that, the city can’t build anything new on that site until the Navy decides to close up shop. Instead of waiting for that, the city has decided to repurpose the existing hangars and infrastructure, upgrading the buildings to modern requirements and repurposing them. 

The issue of promises before purchase has plagued the park since its inception, with a series of abandoned projects including a lake and manmade canyon among others. 

Councilman Larry Agran, the only remaining council member from when those larger projects were considered, didn’t comment during the council discussion. 

Staff didn’t say if or when the design contract with IBI would return to the council. 

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The new master plan process will trigger a round of community meetings with the Great Park homeowners associations and online surveys letting people share their views on the park’s future over the next two months. 

After city staff process the results of the public outreach, it’ll come back to the council at the start of 2022. 

These new surveys represent the Park’s first update to the master plan since 2014, during which the city saw more than 60,000 new residents, with over 6,500 new people living in the Great Park, according to a city staff report. 

Those residents fund the lionshare of infrastructure in the park through a special Mello-Roos property tax on their homes, but many often don’t know where that money is going or had no say in the earlier decisions because they didn’t live there yet. 

[Read: The Great Park Tax: How Irvine Homeowners are Paying for the City’s Big Dreams]

In addition to asking what people want to see at the park going forward, the surveys will specifically ask for opinions on FivePoint Amphitheatre and the long promised botanical gardens. 

The botanical garden was one of the first projects considered for the Great Park, but never managed to get off the ground. 

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, city council members said they want a proposed site of at least 75 acres by their next Great Park meeting in October, with plans to get a consultant for design and costs. 

“I’m really excited to bring this forward. The time to build the botanical garden is now,” said Councilman Mike Carroll, who proposed the site selection. “We need to put our shovel in the ground.” 

The discussion on the FivePoint amphitheatre is less popular. 

Earlier this month, a series of four concerts over four nights brought in complaints from all over the city due to excessive noise, with some residents saying their houses were shaking from the sound. 

Over the weekend, Khan issued a statement that the city was working with the venue to address the problem. 

While the current amphitheatre is a temporary location, a final home in the Great Park is still being considered.

The council’s next Great Park meeting is scheduled for October 26, when staff are set to return with an update on the botanical gardens. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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