Irvine leaders are set to discuss a new plan for the Great Park that includes delaying a few projects to make space for an aquatics center that will be home to an Olympic team.
The aquatics center first came before the city council back in 2019, with a proposed price tag of $250 million that would be almost entirely paid for by special Mello-Roos taxes on the residents surrounding the park.
[Read: Irvine Approves Squishy Concept for $250 Million USA Water Polo Stadium at Great Park]
Under the city’s framework plan, the aquatics center was pushed back a few years, with plans to prioritize some of the other park projects including new lakes, a 14,000-seat amphitheater and the botanical garden.
But last month, city council members spoke out against that plan last month, saying they wanted to build a new home for the USA Water Polo team that could potentially host events in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
[Read: Irvine Guts Great Park Plan In Favor Of Olympic Aquatics Center]
Currently, city staff are projecting the facility will cost a total of $80 million, paid in part by a $12 million contribution from USA Water Polo.
The remaining $68 million for the facility’s budget will be funded by the special taxes on the neighborhoods surrounding the park, which the city recently used to finance over $1 billion in debt for new Great Park projects.
[Read: Irvine Moves Forward With $1 Billion in New Great Park Debt for Development]
In exchange, USA Water Polo gets 10,000 square feet of space for their own operations, including a locker room, a “donor recognition area,” coach offices and a “general flex space for larger scale events.”
They also will receive several add-ons to the main pool, including seating for up to 4,000 spectators, a professional scoreboard, and a “professional,” light and sound system.
Beyond those requirements, the rest of the facility’s development and design is up to the city, who pledged to consult with USA Water Polo on any potential projects or changes.
The water polo team is required to submit their proposed annual calendar for major events in advance.
A Voice of OC review of their submitted schedule for 2025 found the team would be taking up at least one pool at the facility for just over half the year.
The pools will see their most use by USA Water Polo during June and July, when they’re set to host several training camps, the Junior Olympics, and the World Aquatics FINA World Cup and will be using up all three of the facility’s pools simultaneously for several weeks.
Additionally, they also get priority scheduling on 20% of the facility’s regular operating hours, and five days each year where they get the entire facility for the whole day as long as they grant the city at least three months notice.
The contract between the city and USA Water Polo also dictates that they can’t use more than 30% of the facility’s capacity throughout the year.
It remains unclear whether or not USA Water Polo’s $12 million contribution will be enough to cover all the stipulations in the agreement according to City Manager Oliver Chi.
“That overarching issue will have to be determined as we get through the design / construction phase, and USA Water Polo has verbally shared their commitment to working with us collaboratively moving ahead,” Chi said in a text to Voice of OC.
Chi also confirmed that several projects in the “heart of the park,” such as the Great Meadow and the proposed lakes, were being delayed to prioritize the aquatics center, with no hard date on when they’d be rescheduled yet.
He also said that none of the original projects in the framework plan are being canceled, just delayed.
“We’re proposing to redesign several of the bridges to reduce estimated costs, but all of the planned bridge features – along with all of the projects identified in the Great Park Framework Plan – will be built,” Chi said. “Just on a different timeline!”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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