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College Proposes Soaring Venture

Orange County

Building: Irvine Valley seeks investors in office, theater plan thought to be unprecedented in state.

June 15, 2002|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Irvine Valley College officials are quietly trying to find investors for a private hotel, entertainment and office complex on campus that could cost as much as $800 million, officials confirmed this week.

As described in recent meetings among campus officials, the project would include a hotel, a multistory parking structure, two 2,000-seat theaters, office buildings, a sound stage and a lake, replacing orange groves and an athletic field at the southern end of campus.

The scope of the privately funded, for-profit project--whose cost estimates nearly double Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles--is believed to be unprecedented, not only for a community college, but for any public university in the state.

The cost would be enough to build two community colleges, said Kirsten McIntyre, spokeswoman for the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, which was unaware of the proposal.

The project is a long way from reality and would have to be approved by trustees for the South Orange County Community College District, which includes Irvine Valley and Saddleback colleges.

Some faculty and college employees say they don't understand how the two-year college benefits from such a deal.

"It would be a commercial enterprise that would not be a benefit to our students," said Jan Wyma, Irvine Valley's choral director.

The plan is being developed by Howard Gensler, Irvine Valley's dean of humanities and library sciences, who declined to comment. Raghu P. Mather, chancellor of the South Orange County Community College District, said he had discussed the idea with the president of the board of trustees, but would offer no details about the project or how much revenue it would generate for the campus.

Glenn R. Roquemore, Irvine Valley's interim president, said he has had informal conversations with Gensler about the project. "I can't say whether I endorse it or oppose it," he said. "I have not received a proposal."

Although the size of the project is unusual, other colleges and universities lease land to private businesses.

Cal State Fullerton leased 3.15 acres for a six-story Marriott hotel that was completed in 1989, the first commercial hotel on a public campus in the state.

San Jose's Mission College receives $3 million a year for land it leases to Cisco Systems and to movie theaters.

Wyma and other Irvine Valley faculty members said they don't need two 2,000-seat theaters, which campus sources say would be used for commercial roadshows. Instead, Wyma said, they need a 300- to 400-seat theater for college concerts and plays.

In fact, the college is gearing up for a fund-raising campaign for a 400-seat performing arts center, which includes faculty offices and laboratory space. It is expected to cost $12.1 million and be completed in 2006.

Cost Estimates Vary

Gensler has discussed costs in the range of $500 million to $800 million, say campus officials familiar with the discussions. Donald Wagner, president of the board of trustees, said he's heard a much lower cost estimate, but declined to give a figure. He and Roquemore said the plan does not include spending college money.

Details of the project were provided by people who attended meetings at which Gensler discussed his idea and by others who had talked with him about it. Most spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared retribution from administrators. They said Gensler advised them not to discuss the plan.

The proposal has changed over the months, but the basic plan calls for construction on 25 to 35 acres at Jeffrey Road and Barranca Parkway.

Several sources said Gensler was pitching the deal to investors as a 99-year lease, and that it would include a Hilton or Hyatt hotel with conference center facilities, restaurants, a four- or five-story parking structure, an office building of several stories, the theaters, an art museum, an observatory and a building with sound stages for TV and film.

Also contemplated are a movie complex and soccer stadium.

Irvine Must OK Plan

Any construction not associated with the college's educational mission must be approved by Irvine, said Sheri Vander Dussen, the city's director of community development. She said she had not heard of the proposal.

Theaters of the size of those in the project depend mostly on touring productions to fill their calendar, and often do not make a profit from ticket sales.The Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, for example, operates the nearly 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall, along with Founders Hall, which can seat as many as 250 people.

About 75% of the center's income comes from ticket sales, not enough to cover operations, said Tim Dunn, public relations director.

The gap is made up by donations and grants.

The center is in the middle of a $200-million fund-raising campaign to build a 2,000-seat symphonic music hall and a 500-seat auditorium.

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