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O.C. Water Park, Concert Venue Eye a Move to Base

With their property rezoned for homes, Wild Rivers and Verizon Wireless Amphitheater consider relocating to the planned Great Park.

July 20, 2006|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

A large swath of land that's home to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater and the Wild Rivers water park is being converted into a residential neighborhood, and operators of the concert venue and amusement park have expressed interest in moving to the Orange County Great Park, which will take shape on the former El Toro Marine base.

Of the two facilities, the immediate future of Wild Rivers appears less certain -- the park's lease with the Irvine Co. expires next year.

"We know we'll eventually be relocated," said Greg Briggs, Wild Rivers' general manager. "We're telling people we've got at least a couple of seasons left. If that's all there is, then we're hoping to relocate to the Great Park."

The outdoor Verizon concert venue doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon. The facility's lease doesn't expire for 11 years, and Irvine Co. officials said this week that they intended to honor leases in the area, which Irvine city officials rezoned last month. Verizon officials declined to comment, but Great Park officials said they had spoken with Verizon about the amphitheater eventually relocating.

Visitors to Wild Rivers on Wednesday said rumors had been swirling all summer that the park's 21-year run might be ending soon. Even those who hadn't heard the rumors weren't surprised the park was giving way to homes.

"Big shock, more housing," Laura Petchul of Orange said sarcastically. "How many more houses can we build?"

Irvine officials said the city was planning about 6,000 homes over the next decade near the Irvine Spectrum, a sprawling commercial and business center. About 3,700 condominiums and single-family homes are planned for the site of the amphitheater and water park.

"We're very job-rich in Irvine," said Brian Fisk, Irvine's manager of planning and redevelopment. "We're getting a lot of influx from surrounding cities. It makes more sense to provide housing near the job centers, rather than building more roads or transit centers."

Irvine officials said they had not had the option of building homes near the Spectrum because of federal aviation restrictions that were in place when the Marine base was in full swing. A subsequent effort to turn the base into an international airport failed, and the land is now zoned for homes and a large urban park.

"The defeat of [the airport] has given us a lot of opportunities to consider more compatible land uses for the city and the Great Park," Fisk said.

Wild Rivers officials made a presentation to the Great Park board last month about moving to a section of the park that is expected to be dedicated to sports and recreation. The Lennar Corp., which is building homes and businesses at the former base, said it spoke with Wild Rivers officials a year ago.

Few water parks existed 25 years ago, but now there are more than 100 in the U.S., including Raging Waters in San Dimas, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Valencia, the Wave in Vista, Soak City in Buena Park and Wild Rivers.

Wild Rivers occupies the former site of Lion Country Safari, a drive-through animal park that closed in 1984. In the late 1990s, Wild Rivers and Verizon Wireless found themselves in a land dispute between the Irvine Co. and Lion Country Safari owner Harry Shuster. The park and amphitheater faced a threat of eviction from Shuster, but a lawsuit over the matter was settled in 1998.

As the temperature climbed into the 80s Wednesday afternoon, the Wild Rivers parking lot began to fill up.

Steve Peters of Mission Viejo arrived with his daughter and two grandsons visiting from Chicago. Peters said he hadn't heard that the park might close.

"That's terrible," Peters said as he lathered on sunscreen. "It's so nice coming here and not having to get on the 210 to go to Raging Waters. Where are we going to go now?"

Peters said he is not a big fan of the ocean.

"Every day you hear about more bacteria in the water and people getting rashes and bites," he said. "Here it's a controlled environment."

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