Orange County Great Park

The Orange County Great Park is a public park located in Irvine, California with a focus on sports, agriculture, and the arts. It is a non-aviation reuse of the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro. The Orange County park will comprise just 28.8% of the total area that once made up the air base. The project was approved by the voters of Orange County in 2002 at $1.1 billion.

Orange County Great Park
The El Toro airfield in 1993
TypeRegional park
LocationIrvine, California
Coordinates33.67°N 117.73°W / 33.67; -117.73
Area27.5 acres (11.1 ha) (eventually 1,347 acres (545 ha))
CreatedJuly 14, 2007 (July 14, 2007)
Operated byOrange County Great Park Corporation, city of Irvine
StatusOpen, under development and delays
Public transit accessIrvine Transportation Center


The Orange County Great Park was the site of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro from 1943–1999. In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended closing MCAS El Toro and transferring its activities to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. This led to a lengthy political and public relations battle over the subsequent use of the base after its closure, and the issue figured prominently in Orange County politics during the late 1990s. Initial proposals included a commercial airport, housing, and the Great Park. In 2001, Orange County voters passed "Measure W", authorizing the former air station's use as a central park/nature preserve and multi-use development. The measure was passed, which led to the designation of the land as the Orange County Great Park.

The original plan for the infrastructure of the Great Park was virtually identical to Newport Center, with five roads connecting into a central loop road separating the park into "blocks". The design was later modified to include a large section of runway and conform more to the layout of the original base, as a reminder of its history. Most prominent in the park plans is the restoration of Agua Chinon Creek, which had been channeled underground ever since the base was built in the 1940s.

A contest was held for the design of the park; the winning design was created by a team of landscape architects led by Ken Smith.[1]

In the midst of the 2008 US housing crisis, developer Lennar struggled to fulfill its part of the bargain, including delayed construction of planned housing and of a "community facilities district."[2]

The Irvine City Council passed a vote in July 2014 for a plan that included removal of the canyon from the Great Park plan. FivePoint Communities was also given approval for 4,606 more homes near the park in exchange for $200 million to develop 688 acres (278 ha) of the park which will include golf courses, a sports park, and nature trails.[3]

The park has become a political football in Irvine city politics, with historical proponents of the airport and opponents of the park criticizing the implementation. The current City Council commissioned a forensic audit to find mismanagement of public dollars at the park.[4] Among the findings was a $12,000 payment to a consultant for changing one word in a groundwater report and the city paying consultants twice for the same work. As of January 2014, the city council was considering whether to issue subpoenas to compel people to testify about the project's handling.[5]

Before the base was decommissioned in 1999 it was composed of 4,682 acres. The current plan as of 2018 is for a 688-acre park. The remaining 3,994 acres or 85% went to developers and additional city infrastructure.


Orange County Great Park was designed by a team of landscape architects led by architect Ken Smith.[1] Smith's plan was chosen from those submitted as part of an international contest for the park's design.[6]

The park is owned by the City of Irvine and run by the non-profit Orange County Great Park Corporation; the corporation is governed by current city council members.[7]

Points of interest

The Orange County Great Park has a variety of attractions and activities centering around the fitness, agriculture, and the arts. The Great Park also has venues for special events including a restored hangar and a terraced lawn.[8]


The Great Park Balloon is the park's signature attraction. On July 14, 2007, the balloon ride—designed by Aerophile SA—was the first attraction to open in the park. It transports visitors to a height of 500 feet (150 m) for a panoramic view of the county and the construction of the park.[9] The balloon's gondola can fit 25–30 people, large enough to bring up a class of students.[10]

  • The Great Park Carousel


  • Certified Farmers Market
  • The Farm+Food Lab

Sports and recreation

  • Kids Rock
  • Kids playground
  • North Lawn
  • South Lawn Sports & Fitness Complex
  • Reflecting Ponds and Viewing Pier


  • Hangar 244 - Permanent Heritage and Aviation Exhibition
  • Palm Court Arts Complex
  • Walkable Historical Timeline

Construction and future projects

The sports complex construction took place over multiple phases. A soccer stadium, volleyball courts, tennis courts, and a playground were constructed over 53 acres (21 ha) as part of phase one, which opened in 2017.[12] Phase two expanded the complex to 175 acres (71 ha) and included a baseball stadium; turf fields for soccer, football, rugby, or lacrosse; basketball courts; and additional baseball, softball, and soccer fields.[13] The project was completed with the grand opening of the baseball and softball facilities in September 2018.[12] An 18-hole golf course remains to be constructed.

The park's ice facility had a ground breaking ceremony hosted by the NHL's Anaheim Ducks in February 2017. The 280,000-square-foot (26,000 m2) facility will include four ice sheets to support a variety of professional, youth, and adult programs including figure skating, hockey, curling, and broomball. It is to open in December 2018.[14][15]

The Cultural Terrace section in the southeast part of the park covers 248 acres (100 ha) and as of August 2018 is still in the planning stages. The City of Irvine is considering including an amphitheater, museums, and a library,[16] and in June 2017 approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Wild Rivers, a water park that operated further south in Irvine for 25 years before closing in 2011 when its lease expired. The 26-acre (11 ha) water park is projected to open in summer 2019.[17][18] Some residents are urging the inclusion of a botanical garden.[19][20] As of March 2018, 62 acres (25 ha) of the Cultural Terrace section are leased to a company that operates a green waste and recycling plant there.[18]

A wildlife corridor between chaparral areas near Laguna Beach and the Cleveland National Forest in the Santa Ana Mountains is scheduled to open in mid-2019; 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of a total 6 miles (9.7 km) require restoration.[12][21]

See also


  1. "Great Park Observation Balloon Preview Park Wins Honor Award from American Society of Landscape Architects". PR Newswire. New York. May 28, 2009. ProQuest 447340034.
  2. "Los Angeles Times: U.S. housing crisis stifles Great Park". April 12, 2008.
  3. Pierceall, Kimberly (July 18, 2014). "Irvine Great Park plan gets planners' OK". Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  4. "Great Park Auditor Details Massive Waste and Abuse". Voice of OC. January 15, 2014.
  5. "Audit of Great Park Spending Highlights Consultants' Windfall". Voice of OC. January 13, 2014.
  6. Pierceall, Kimberly (March 14, 2013). "Ken Smith talks of his vision for the Great Park". Orange County Register. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  7. "Orange County Great Park". City of Irvine. March 11, 2016. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  8. "Visitors Info". Orange County Great Park. City of Irvine, California. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  9. "Los Angeles Times: O.C.'s Great Park takes off".
  10. Merkel, Jayne (March 2007). "Urban American Landscape". Architectural Design. 77 (2): 36–47. doi:10.1002/ad.422. ISSN 1554-2769.
  11. "280,000-square-foot ice skating facility opens at Great Park". Daily Pilot. January 3, 2019. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  12. Brazil, Ben (September 19, 2018). "Orange County Great Park gets one step closer to completion with opening of $200-million sports complex". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  13. Tsutsumida, Damian (October 5, 2016). "Sports complex in OC's Great Park to open early 2017, developers say". Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  14. Shimura, Tomoya (February 17, 2017). "Irvine's Great Park, Anaheim Ducks host 'icebreaking' of mega ice rink complex". Orange County Register. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  15. Zupke, Curtis (August 10, 2018). "New 280,000 square-foot ice arena in Irvine will have four practice rinks for Ducks, figure skaters". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  16. Shimura, Tomoya (February 2, 2017). "Great Park amenities: Amphitheater? Water park? Irvine residents say what they want". Orange County Register. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  17. Ponsi, Lou (June 28, 2017). "A water park by Wild Rivers is a step closer for Irvine's Great Park". Orange County Register. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  18. Shimura, Tomoya (March 30, 2018). "Iconic Wild Rivers water park eyes return to Irvine in 2019". Orange County Register. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  19. Shimura, Tomoya (October 24, 2017). "Irvine ponders development of Cultural Terrace — the last big piece of Orange County Great Park". Orange County Register. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  20. Pignataro, Anthony (August 16, 2018). "The Orange County Great Park Is Huge, Perfectly Manicured and Beautiful. So Where's the Actual Park?". OC Weekly. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  21. Brazil, Ben (March 15, 2018). "Wildlife corridor linking O.C.'s coast and Santa Ana mountains gets started at ground-breaking ceremony". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
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