A nonprofit corporation formed by the city of Irvine to manage redevelopment at the closed El Toro Marine base got down to work Friday as its board of directors met for the first time.
In the next several months, the nine-member panel must decide on a blueprint for transforming a 4,700-acre former military airfield into 3,600 homes, more than 300,000 square feet of shops, a cemetery, two mammoth business parks, a college campus, 300 acres of agricultural fields, golf courses, a 34-acre auto mall, a museum park, a 180-acre "transit village" with homes and businesses along a stretch of commuter rail and a 600-acre public park to rival New York City's Central Park.
"You get to decide what it will look like," Irvine City Manager Allison Hart told the newly installed board of the Orange County Great Park Corp. as it met in council chambers. The directors include Irvine's five council members and four appointees.
After a decadelong battle, the question of whether to turn El Toro into a commercial airport seems essentially settled. Orange County voters passed Measure W last year, calling for the base to become mostly open space with limited development.
Irvine, which opposed the airport and offered a Great Park as an alternative, won the right last month to annex the unincorporated areas of El Toro.
Friday was "the culmination of [years] of hard work," Irvine Councilman Mike Ward said. "Now, we're getting to the real work."
In a city renowned for its master-planned communities, El Toro will be the grandmaster of all plans. The board must decide the shape and form projects will take, including parks and other public spaces. It will have several options from competitive bids and hold a public design contest.
When the board meets again Jan. 29, it will form an engineering and design committee to make recommendations to the full board.
Four committees will be formed to deal with financial and environmental issues, community outreach and management of public properties within the Great Park. Irvine city staff members will serve the board and the city will be reimbursed for their work once the corporation begins collecting fees. The board may vote to hire its own staff, officials said.
The Navy, which still owns the land, will conduct an Internet-based auction early next year to sell 3,700 acres of the base in four parcels.
A 1,000-acre nature preserve has already been set aside by the federal government.
Under Irvine's plan, the developers will deed nearly 2,500 acres to the city for public use and pay $200 million in fees for the construction of roads, sewer lines, water pipes and other infrastructure. An additional $172 million will be raised through bonds to be repaid with taxes levied on Great Park property owners.
Irvine officials said the nonprofit corporation was necessary to protect the city's general funds from cost overruns. Moreover, the four members appointed by Irvine's City Council, they said, will ensure that the board reflects the interests of the entire county.
"We are going to be able to do some amazing things for everyone in Orange County," said Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido, a board member. "I'm here to make sure that the Great Park is a county amenity beyond just a large city park."