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Summer will see Irvine's Great Park take baby steps toward eventual glory

Balloon rides and carving of a canyon will get things started on 1,350 acres of the former El Toro Marine base.

January 26, 2007|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's Great Park will begin taking shape this summer with helium balloon rides and the digging of a massive canyon, according to a proposal unveiled Thursday.

At a meeting of the park's board of directors at Irvine City Hall, park architect Ken Smith outlined the first two years of his plan for 1,350 acres of the former El Toro Marine Corps base.

The initial phase of the urban oasis, at an estimated price of $400 million, calls for the completion of a visitor center, trails, several athletic fields, orchard plantings and a park entrance featuring fountains, reflective pools, a cafe and a towering 300-foot-wide rectangular steel gateway.

Tethered-balloon rides are set to launch this summer, although an accompanying mini-park won't be ready until 2008, officials said. Meanwhile, construction crews will begin carving out the park's 21-acre lake and giant man-made canyon.

The grading should be completed by the end of next year, but finishing touches could require an additional five to 10 years, officials said.

"You don't build a park," Smith explained. "You grow it."

The preliminary plans were praised by Great Park board members, although several urged a quicker timetable for the park's athletic fields, which would end up only partially finished by the end of 2008 under Smith's proposal.

Board member Christina Shea suggested having private contractors build and operate the athletic fields so the fields could start generating revenue as soon as possible.

Additional elements of the park's first phase include the bridge for a future botanical garden and partial construction of an amphitheater.

The entire project is being funded by fees, property taxes and other tax revenue generated by development on the former base.

In other action, on a 6-2 vote, the Great Park board reelected Larry Agran, an Irvine city councilman, to a third term as board chairman.

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roy.rivenburg@latimes.com

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