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A great moment to act

Thrown a curve ball by the state, Irvine has an opportunity to have its Great Park and political cake, too. But will the city act?

By Steve Churm
Publisher and Executive Editor
Published: October 01, 2012

No issue was politically more charged in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Orange County than the fate of the El Toro Marine Air Base in Irvine. In the end, after several costly – and divisive – countywide ballot measures, proponents of converting the military airfield into an international airport were defeated, and the door opened for an unprecedented public-private partnership to build a 21st-century park three times the size of New York’s Central Park surrounded by thousands of new homes.
The only problem: Reality got in the way. An economic crash almost as grand as the vision that early architects had for the Orange County Great Park led state officials earlier this year to abolish redevelopment agencies and eliminate $1.4 billion in tax financing that Irvine officials had hoped to use to construct the multi-purpose park. Stuck between an empty runway and public expectations driven by years of promises, Irvine officials have been hard pressed to find a way to bridge the funding gap – until now.
Emile Haddad – president and CEO of FivePoint Communities and the master developer of a planned 4,900 homes on the northern and eastern flanks of the 1,300-acre park – has a plan. In August, he and his partners offered to invest another $641 million to build and maintain most of the undeveloped acreage, bringing FivePoint’s total play in the project to more than $2 billion. In return, Haddad wants approval to build an additional 5,800 homes as well as oversight of the development of a 250-acre Olympic-style sports village, complete with 24 soccer fields, a 2,500-seat arena, 18 tennis courts and sand volleyball courts, as well as a major retail and restaurant center. 
Haddad says the additional investment also provides $30 million in cash for improvements to the 258-acre Cultural Terrace and the relocation and completion of a key wildlife corridor.

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