The Project Of The Century

Redeveloping a World War II-era military base into a 21st-century metropolitan park is no easy task. But after three years of planning, the Great Park Corporation Board approved in May the first major development of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Considered a large step forward, it will move the park toward its goal of being one of the largest metropolitan parks created in the United States in the past 100 years.

The 1,347-acre park is being developed by the city and its Great Park Corporation on the site of the former 4,700-acre El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The 57-year-old base–once America’s sentinel on the West Coast and home to generations of Marine Corps airmen–was closed in 1999 as part of the Defense Department’s Base Closure and Realignment process.

Encompassing 500 acres on the park’s western edge, the development plan is estimated to cost $61.16 million, and preliminary construction could begin this year. The work will include moving 2.6-million cubic yards of soil within the park boundaries, and removing 185,000 cubic yards of runway to create distinct park districts that are part of the overall master plan.

Some specific features within the 500-acre site include:

· Eight tournament-level soccer fields in the 165-acre Sports Park

· A 27.5-acre Preview Park surrounding the Great Park Balloon, which takes visitors aloft for a bird’s-eye view

· A 20-acre lake

· A “working farm”

· Event lawns

· Picnic meadows

· A cultural terrace site

· A performance bowl

· 7.3 miles of walking and bicycle paths

The planned development also encompasses a 125-acre agricultural district with community gardens, and may include row crops and a tree nursery populated with 5,000 Valencia Olinda citrus trees donated to the park.

Construction Counts

According to a study by Economic Research Associates (ERA), building the park will be a boon to Southern California’s economy, creating thousands of new jobs and economic vitality over the next 12 years. The study was commissioned to more fully understand the potential economic impact of the project.

Few industries have felt the brunt of Southern California’s recession more than the construction industry. With hardly any new housing, office buildings, shopping centers, bridges or schools being built, the state lost 90,000 construction jobs last year. According to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, Southern California’s construction industry can expect to lose 50,700 jobs this year and another 35,700 jobs in 2010.

Against this backdrop, the Great Park is a bright spot, and projections of its fiscal impact are impressive. According to the report, construction and activities associated with building the park and adjacent residential/commercial developments could add tens of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars to Southern California’s economy over the next 12 years. Specific economic benefits include adding approximately $23.9 billion to the region’s Gross Regional Product (GRP) by 2020. The study also projects that 31,500 new jobs could be created by the park and adjacent private and public development.

“We knew when we started planning the Great Park three years ago that it would bring a significant number of new jobs and economic vitality to Orange County and Southern California,” says Mike Ellzey, CEO of the Great Park Corporation. “If this park has this potential level of economic benefit for Southern California, other parts of the country may also benefit economically from their own park development. When looking for public-works projects with long-term benefits, I think this potential must be considered seriously by the federal and state governments.”

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