Game on: Irvine’s Great Park opens first part of new sports park, which is twice the size of Disneyland – OCRegister
IRVINE — You may not know what’s actually at the Orange County Great Park, except for that giant orange balloon.
That might change now. On Saturday, Aug. 5, the city of Irvine and developer FivePoint hosted a grand opening of the first phase of the 194-acre Great Park Sports Park, which is the biggest of its kind in Orange County — larger than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure combined.
“I think it’s a moment that we are starting a new history for the Great Park and the city of Irvine,” Councilwoman Christina Shea said. “We’ve had years of inability to create a park, get off the ground, and now we are finally moving forward.”
Saturday’s festivities included an opening ceremony — featuring Irvine officials, dignitaries and soccer greats like Landon Donovan and Amy Rodriguez — followed by a soccer match by Orange County high school all-star teams at the new 2,506-seat Championship Soccer Stadium. A free concert by the Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi was scheduled in the evening.
Thousands of athletes, families and residents visited the park Saturday to enjoy clinics and exhibitions on six soccer fields, 25 tennis courts and five sand volleyball courts on 53 acres. A new 1-acre children’s play area also opened.
When completed next spring, the sports park will also feature six additional soccer fields, 12 baseball and softball fields and lawn areas large enough to accommodate five more soccer fields.
“There’s nothing like this in Orange County or L.A.” said Brian Howard, of Huntington Beach, whose 15-year-old son plays rugby for the Rhinos Rugby Academy, which practices at the Great Park. “It has everything. Parking’s great. The whole neighborhood’s building around it. It’s massive.”
Robert Mankin, who is in charge of sports design at architecture firm NBBJ, said the Great Park Sports Park is unique in that it offers such a variety of sports amenities in one place. The firm designed canopies into its championship stadiums to make them stand out and add a sense of scale, he said.
City officials expect the sports park to be used by various youth, community and professional organizations, though prices are set higher than other city facilities.
The city will run and maintain the new park using city staff as well as contracts with vendors. The staff is still trying to come up with figures on how much it will cost to run the sports park annually.
The Orange County Soccer Club, part of the 31-team professional United Soccer League, announced that it will begin playing home games at the new stadium on Aug. 15. The stadium features an upper deck with a VIP lounge, press boxes and patio seating.
“We have a wide variety of players … but our goal is to prepare young players to play professional soccer not only MLS but beyond,” Orange County Soccer Club owner James Keston said, “and for them to have a home that’s a professional stadium is an amazing experience and a huge step up for us.”
More to come
The sports park is the first major facility to open at the Great Park since a new City Council in 2013 decided to change the course of the park’s development.
City officials say the sports park is just the first of many features coming to the Great Park in the next few years. The 1,300-acre former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro site, which is owned by the city, could match the size of San Diego’s Balboa Park when fully developed.
The city has so far developed 200 acres of the Great Park. Amenities include the Great Park balloon, a carousel, visitor center, kids rock play area, walkable historical timeline, a Hangar 244 event center, an arts complex, horticulture area and sports fields.
The new sports park is part of the 713 acres FivePoint is building for the city in exchange for approval to build more than 4,600 homes adjacent to the park. That portion will also include an 18-hole golf course, trails, agricultural fields, playgrounds, open space and a wildlife corridor. Most of these amenities, except for the golf course, are expected to be open by mid-2018.
FivePoint, which plans to spend about $250 million on these facilities, will turn them over to the city as they are developed.
“For FivePoint, this is a very important and proud moment for us because a lot of people honestly started giving up on the Great Park being built and a lot of people speculating this will be runways forever,” FivePoint Chairman and CEO Emile Haddad said. “But we were telling people we are not giving up until the Great Park gets built.”
Haddad said the sports park and other amenities at the Great Park will benefit residents of the adjacent Great Park Neighborhoods, which are being developed by his company.
The company also teamed up with a concert promoter to build a temporary 12,000-seat amphitheater that will open Aug. 26 on its land next to the Great Park.
FivePoint wants to create a city within a city, where people can live, work and play, he said.
“A lot of it is mixing things together and mixing people together,” Haddad said. “This sports park is nothing but an element of our vision.”
In addition, the Anaheim Ducks in February began construction of a 270,000-square-foot community ice complex and practice facility at the Great Park. The complex, the largest of its kind in California, is slated for a July 2018 opening.
Moreover, the city is negotiating with Wild Rivers to open a 30-acre water park with an uphill water coaster, water slides and lazy river. That could be open by summer 2019.
Not just for sports
Combining the new sports park with other amenities — such as the existing fields, the community ice complex, and the golf course — 472 acres of the Great Park will be used for sports-related activities. That makes the Great Park the third-largest multisports complex in the United States, according to Irvine, behind the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area in Encino and National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn.
Some have criticized that the Great Park is turning into a jumble of commercial attractions and sport-specific activity centers, rather than a world-class urban respite like New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Officials say the current plan offers ample free amenities for those who don’t play sports, such as trails, agricultural areas and a botanical garden. An area designated as a 233-acre Cultural Terrace, with museums, a permanent amphitheater, a lake and a library, could be completed in the next decade or two.
“When you go on the balloon, you’ll see that there’s room for everything,” Councilwoman Melissa Fox said. “The sports park is just the beginning of what will truly be a great park for all of Orange County.”
Ed Pallotta, who lives a mile away from the Great Park, dropped by Saturday’s grand opening to play tennis at the new courts. He had visited the Great Park a while back to ride the balloon but didn’t bother to return.
“There was no real reason to come back,” Pallotta said. “The facilities weren’t developed yet. Now that it’s open, now that it’s available, yeah, we’ll be here on a regular basis.”
Residents and organizations interested in using sports facilities at the Orange County Great Park can obtain applications and information on fees at Facilities@ocgp.org or 949-724-6584.