Wild Rivers water park in Irvine will close or relocate after this summer.… (Don Kelsen / Los Angeles…)
The slides and wave pools at Irvine's Wild Rivers water park will be permanently closed at the end of summer to make way for an apartment complex.
The 26-year-old water park and nearby Camp James, a summer day camp for children, must shut down or relocate when their leases end Oct. 2.
The Irvine Co., which owns the land, has plans to build as many as 1,700 apartments on the site, which is adjacent to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater — a popular music venue formerly known as Irvine Meadows.
"This parcel of land was always meant to transition to a more a permanent use," Erin Freeman, Irvine Co. spokeswoman, said via e-mail. "Over the past several years, the Irvine Co. has worked with the city and community on a land-use plan for this area that would ensure the city's long-term economic health."
The Irvine City Council rezoned the land for residential use in 2006, and the Irvine Co. chose to end the lease agreements in 2007.
However, both tenants were allowed to remain an additional four years. In that time, Wild Rivers has been unable to secure a property to relocate to.
"When you start looking at Orange County and large parcels of land, there is not many that are undeveloped," Wild Rivers President Mike Riedel said.
However, managers at the water park have been working with directors of the nearby Orange County Great Park, which is slowly being built on the site of the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
The water park's 1,200 seasonal employees — 50% of whom are local youths returning this year from last season — would be offered jobs if Wild Rivers is able to relocate in a reasonable time frame, Riedel said.
"We are the largest youth employer in Orange County, and when those jobs go away, they go away," Riedel said. "It's really hard with all the changes in employment numbers. We're seeing adults taking a lot of jobs that youths used to take, so youth employment has become pretty sparse."
The park is preparing to submit a feasibility study to the Great Park board, Riedel said.