The Irvine Co. settled a 12-year land-use war Monday over the former site of Lion Country Safari, ensuring the survival of the Wild Rivers Waterpark and Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
The park and amphitheater had faced a threat of extinction from entrepreneur Harry Shuster, who made Lion Country a roadside attraction of some notoriety in the 1970s.
Terms of the court settlement were not disclosed. The issues in a jungle of claims, counterclaims and appeals included whether Shuster was cheated out of full use of 300 acres of Irvine Co. land he leased in 1969.
Irvine Co., which has spent decades converting range land into suburbs, malls and business parks, was socked with a $42.6 million jury verdict on that claim in 1993. But the judge ordered a new trial in 1994, citing insufficient evidence--an order upheld recently by an appeals court.
Among the other disputes buried Monday was whether Shuster could bulldoze Wild Rivers and Irvine Meadows, which subleased land from Shuster.
The Irvine Co., Orange County's largest land developer, had submitted documents to the court trying to show that Shuster's threats to dismantle those attractions were bluffs. But Shuster's lawyer said Shuster hadn't been crying wolf.
"Until this settlement was reached, there was still a very real possibility that Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and Wild Rivers would have to be removed," attorney Wayne Call said. "It was never a fake on his part."
Lion Country Safari opened in 1969 with Frasier the Sensuous Lion as its main draw. Also wandering the drive-through park near the juncture of interstates 5 and 405 were zebras, giraffes and other exotic beasts.
Lion Country was never a roaring success, however. It closed in 1984, and Shuster's United Leisure Inc. filed bankruptcy papers two years later.
Shuster had long accused the Irvine Co. of systematically thwarting attempts to develop other recreational businesses at the site. As far back as 1986, a water park suit contended that the Irvine Co. was demanding unreasonably high liability insurance in an effort to squelch that business.
The following year, the Irvine Co. filed a cross complaint against the water park, then known as the Splash, and United Leisure, touching off the war that raged until Monday's peace treaty.
Both sides described the settlement as a reasonable business solution to a dispute that had gone on too long.
"It's been 12 years," said Larry Thomas, spokesman for Irvine Co.'s boss, billionaire Donald Bren. "If we hadn't settled it, it would have taken another 10."
Shuster's 28-year lease with the Irvine Co. ran out last year. Wild Rivers and Irvine Meadows will continue to operate on land now leased directly from the Irvine Co.
Shuster, whose other enterprises include day-care camps, a stake in a Las Vegas shopping center-casino complex and a cigar business, couldn't be reached for comment.
In over-the-counter trading Monday, United Leisure shares fell 3 cents, to 25 cents a share.