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Irvine Meadows Looks Safe--for Weekend at Least

Dispute: Landlord's lease on amphitheater and water park expires but no attempts at demolishing them are expected.

March 01, 1997|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — Businessman Harry Shuster's ground lease with the Irvine Co. expired at midnight Friday, but no bulldozers or demolition crews were expected to be around to commemorate the moment.

In fact, all sides in the high-profile dispute that had threatened to bring down the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and neighboring Wild Rivers water park are anticipating an uneventful--though tense--weekend after a month of legal fireworks.

"I still have butterflies," said Dale Dawes, a part-owner of the water park. "I don't like all this confrontation."

After targeting the facilities for demolition in a bid to wring concessions from the Irvine Co., Shuster's attorneys unveiled a new legal strategy late Thursday to carry on the fight in court rather than with a wrecking ball.

But no one is taking any chances over the weekend.

Owners of the water park hired armed security guards to patrol the site. Attorneys for the amphitheater said they will be on hand for any legal emergencies. The Irvine city attorney sent a letter reminding all parties to behave themselves--and city police are on alert in case someone doesn't.

"Harry Shuster may have shifted strategies, but he always leaves his options open," said Irvine Meadows attorney Ron Brown, who plans to be at the amphitheater early Saturday. "We may be breathing a little easier, but we're still protecting our property."

Irvine Meadows and Wild Rivers are tenants on a 300-acre parcel near the El Toro Y that Shuster's company, United Leisure Corp., controlled for 29 years through a master lease with the Irvine Co.

An unusual clause in that agreement gives Shuster an additional 90 days after the lease expires to remove all improvements.

Shuster had threatened to do just that to force the Irvine Co. to compensate him for leaving two profitable tenants on the property. However, a Superior Court judge put a temporary halt this week to plans to demolish the amphitheater.

Shuster's attorneys, altering their attack, filed suit Thursday seeking an extension of the ground lease for 26 years.

That suit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, claims that an Irvine Co. negotiator made an oral agreement to extend Shuster's lease upon expiration if the giant land owner and developer didn't use the property for housing, a shopping center or some other purpose besides recreation.

What's more, Shuster's attorneys have declared a unilateral extension of the lease and assert that Shuster has no intention of vacating the property. United Leisure operates the Camp Frasier summer day camp on the property and currently has a few administrative employees on the site.

"We are staying," said Brian Lysaght, one of Shuster's attorneys. "We are not giving up possession."

Irvine Co. officials dismissed Shuster's latest legal maneuver as "laughable" and "desperate." Spokesman Larry Thomas said the developer has no intention of extending Shuster's lease and is making plans to regain possession of its property.

Shuster's camp, however, sees a new round of litigation in the offing. "We look forward to testing our case in a court of law," Lysaght said.

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