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Orange County Great Park

Coordinates: 33°40′N 117°44′W / 33.67°N 117.73°W / 33.67; -117.73
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Great Park
View of the airfield in 1993
Part of the Great Park as seen from the Great Park Balloon in 2018
TypeRegional park
LocationIrvine, California
Coordinates33°40′N 117°44′W / 33.67°N 117.73°W / 33.67; -117.73
Area500 acres (200 ha) (eventually 1,347 acres (545 ha))
CreatedJuly 14, 2007 (July 14, 2007)
Operated byGreat Park Corporation, city of Irvine
StatusOpen, under development and delays
Public transit accessIrvine Transportation Center
The balloon ride was the first attraction to open at the Great Park

The Great Park is a public park located in Irvine, California, with a focus on sports, agriculture, and the arts. It is a non-aviation reuse of the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro. The Orange County park comprises 28.8% of the total area that once made up the air base. The project was approved by the voters of Orange County in 2002 at $1.1 billion.[1]


Great Park stands on land originally part of Rancho Cañada de los Alisos, granted in 1842 to José Antonio Serrano.
An aerial view of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in 1993.

The Great Park was the site of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro from 1943 to 1999. In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended closing MCAS El Toro and transferring its activities to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. This led to a lengthy political and public relations battle over the subsequent use of the base after its closure, and the issue figured prominently in Orange County politics during the late 1990s. Initial proposals included a commercial airport, housing, and the Great Park. In 2001, Orange County voters passed Measure W, authorizing the former air station's use as a central park/nature preserve and multi-use development. The measure was passed, which led to the designation of the land as the Great Park.

The original plan for the infrastructure of the Great Park was virtually identical to Newport Center, with five roads connecting into a central loop road separating the park into blocks. The design was later modified to include a large section of runway and conform more to the layout of the original base, as a reminder of its history. Most prominent in the park plans is the restoration of Agua Chinon Creek, which had been channeled underground ever since the base was built in the 1940s.[citation needed]

A contest was held for the design of the park; the winning design was created by a team of landscape architects led by Ken Smith.[2]

In the midst of the 2008 US housing crisis, developer Lennar struggled to fulfill its part of the bargain, including delayed construction of planned housing and of a "community facilities district."[3]

The Irvine City Council passed a vote in July 2014 for a plan that included removal of the canyon[which?] from the Great Park plan. FivePoint Communities was also given approval for 4,606 more homes near the park in exchange for $200 million to develop 688 acres (known locally as the "Not So Great Park") of the park which will include golf courses, a sports park, and nature trails.[4] The remaining 3,994 acres or 85% went to developers and additional city infrastructure.[citation needed]

The park has become a political football in Irvine city politics, with historical proponents of the airport and opponents of the park criticizing the implementation. In 2012, political opponents of long-term City Councilmember Larry Agran — including newly-elected Mayor Steven Choi and Councilmembers Christina Shea and Jeff Lalloway — won a 3-2 majority on the City Council, and called for another audit of Great Park expenditures. Agran and the other members of the City Council voted for the new audit, specifying that the cost should not exceed $250,000. Councilmembers Christina Shea and Jeff Lalloway appointed themselves to a newly constituted City Council Subcommittee charged with overseeing the audit. Through this two-person Subcommittee, Shea and Lalloway hired an accounting firm to conduct the audit: Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro (HSNO). The HSNO accounting firm was hired without a public bidding process. The Shea-Lalloway City Council subcommittee commissioned a forensic audit which claimed mismanagement of public dollars at the park.[5] In January 2020, the accounting firm in charge of the audit, Hagen Streiff Newton & Oshiro, Accountants, lost its professional license and was charged $550,000 in fines, as the California Board of Accountancy said the firm “failed to comply with professional standards, engaged in numerous acts of negligence, and disseminated false and misleadingly information” in performing the Great Park audit.[6]


Great Park was designed by a team of landscape architects led by architect Ken Smith.[2] Smith's plan was chosen from those submitted as part of an international contest for the park's design.[7]

The park is owned by the City of Irvine and run by the non-profit Great Park Corporation; the corporation is governed by current city council members.[8]

Points of interest[edit]

The Great Park has a variety of attractions and activities centering around fitness, agriculture, and the arts. The Great Park also has venues for special events including a restored hangar and a terraced lawn.[9]


The Great Park Balloon is the park's signature attraction. On July 14, 2007, the balloon ride—designed and operated by Aerophile SA—was the first attraction to open in the park. It transports visitors to a height of 500 feet (150 m) for a panoramic view of the county and the construction of the park.[10] The balloon's gondola can fit 25–30 people.[11]

  • The Great Park Carousel
Carousel as seen from the Great Park Balloon


  • Certified farmers' market
  • The Farm+Food Lab

Sports and recreation[edit]

  • Kids rock and playground
  • Reflecting ponds and viewing pier


  • Hangar 244—permanent heritage and aviation exhibition
  • Palm Court Arts Complex
  • Walkable historical timeline

Construction and future projects[edit]

The sports complex construction took place over multiple phases. A soccer stadium, volleyball courts, tennis courts, and a playground were constructed over 53 acres (21 ha) as part of phase one, which opened in 2017.[13] Phase two expanded the complex to 175 acres (71 ha) and included a baseball stadium; turf fields for soccer, football, rugby, or lacrosse; basketball courts; and additional baseball, softball, and soccer fields.[14] The project was completed with the grand opening of the baseball and softball facilities in September 2018.[13]

The park's ice facility had a ground breaking ceremony hosted by the NHL's Anaheim Ducks in February 2017. The 280,000-square-foot (26,000 m2) facility includes four ice sheets to support a variety of professional, youth, and adult programs including figure skating, hockey, curling, and broomball. It opened in December 2018.[15][16]

The Cultural Terrace section in the southeast part of the park covers 248 acres (100 ha) and as of September 2021 is still in the planning stages. The City of Irvine is considering including an amphitheater, museums, and a library,[17] and in June 2017 approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Wild Rivers, a water park that operated further south in Irvine for 25 years before closing in 2011 when its lease expired. The new 26-acre (11 ha) water park opened in July 2022.[18] Some residents are urging the inclusion of a botanical garden.[19][20] As of March 2021 62 acres (25 ha) of the Cultural Terrace section were leased to a company that operates a green waste and recycling plant there.[21] On April 20, 2023, it was announced that the architectural firm SWA Group’s Laguna Beach branch released newly updated plans for the park, including extra room for the supposed 40-acre botanical garden should it be expanded in the future after it is built. In addition to botanical gardens, there will be an outdoor amphitheater with 12,000 seats, a museum, lakes, farms, a library, more trails and playgrounds and a 200-acre sports park.[22]

In May 2022 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the City of Irvine and Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum to relocate the museum from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar back to the Great Park, which once housed the museum when the area was MCAS El Toro. The current plan is for the museum to reopen in fall 2025-Spring 2026.[23]

A wildlife corridor between chaparral areas near Laguna Beach and the Cleveland National Forest in the Santa Ana Mountains opened in mid-2019; 2.5 miles (4.0 km) of a total 6 miles (9.7 km) required restoration.[13][24]


Los Angeles Knight Riders, a franchise team that plays in Major League Cricket, plans to have their home ground at Great Park.[25] The stadium is expected to cost $30 million and seat upwards of 10,000 spectators once it is completed in 2024 or 2025.[26] Plans for a dedicated cricket stadium in the area were announced by CEO Venky Mysore in April 2021.[27] The selection of Great Park for the 10,000-seat stadium was revealed the following year.[28][29] It is designated as one of two venues in Los Angeles for cricket at the 2028 Summer Olympics, alongside the Leo Magnus Cricket Complex.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Great Park's Time Has Come". Los Angeles Times. March 17, 2002.
  2. ^ a b "Great Park Observation Balloon Preview Park Wins Honor Award from American Society of Landscape Architects". PR Newswire. New York. May 28, 2009. ProQuest 447340034.
  3. ^ "Los Angeles Times: U.S. housing crisis stifles Great Park". Los Angeles Times. April 12, 2008.
  4. ^ Pierceall, Kimberly (July 18, 2014). "Irvine Great Park plan gets planners' OK". Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  5. ^ "Great Park Auditor Details Massive Waste and Abuse". Voice of OC. January 15, 2014.
  6. ^ Robinson, Alicia (January 30, 2020). "Great Park audit firm gives up accounting license, charged $550,000 in penalties by state". ocregister.com. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  7. ^ Pierceall, Kimberly (March 14, 2013). "Ken Smith talks of his vision for the Great Park". Orange County Register. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  8. ^ "Great Park". City of Irvine. March 11, 2016. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  9. ^ "Visitors Info". Great Park. City of Irvine, California. March 22, 2016. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  10. ^ "Los Angeles Times: O.C.'s Great Park takes off". Los Angeles Times. July 13, 2007.
  11. ^ Merkel, Jayne (March 2007). "Urban American Landscape". Architectural Design. 77 (2): 36–47. doi:10.1002/ad.422. ISSN 1554-2769.
  12. ^ "280,000-square-foot ice skating facility opens at Great Park". Daily Pilot. January 3, 2019. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c Brazil, Ben (September 19, 2018). "Great Park gets one step closer to completion with opening of $200-million sports complex". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  14. ^ Tsutsumida, Damian (October 5, 2016). "Sports complex in OC's Great Park to open early 2017, developers say". Southern California Public Radio. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  15. ^ Shimura, Tomoya (February 17, 2017). "Irvine's Great Park, Anaheim Ducks host 'icebreaking' of mega ice rink complex". Orange County Register. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  16. ^ Zupke, Curtis (August 10, 2018). "New 280,000 square-foot ice arena in Irvine will have four practice rinks for Ducks, figure skaters". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  17. ^ Shimura, Tomoya (February 2, 2017). "Great Park amenities: Amphitheater? Water park? Irvine residents say what they want". Orange County Register. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  18. ^ De Nova, Jessica (July 13, 2022). "Wild Rivers Water Park in Irvine now open after decade-long closure". ABC7. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  19. ^ Shimura, Tomoya (October 24, 2017). "Irvine ponders development of Cultural Terrace — the last big piece of Orange County Great Park". Orange County Register. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  20. ^ Pignataro, Anthony (August 16, 2018). "The Orange County Great Park Is Huge, Perfectly Manicured and Beautiful. So Where's the Actual Park?". OC Weekly. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  21. ^ Shimura, Tomoya (March 30, 2018). "Iconic Wild Rivers water park eyes return to Irvine in 2019". Orange County Register. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  22. ^ Walton, Chris (April 20, 2023). "SWA Group unveils a comprehensive master plan for Irvine's unfinished Great Park". The Architect's Newspaper. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  23. ^ Our Journey to Irvine Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum Retrieved October 18, 2023
  24. ^ Brazil, Ben (March 15, 2018). "Wildlife corridor linking O.C.'s coast and Santa Ana mountains gets started at ground-breaking ceremony". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  25. ^ Gupta, Gaurav (April 30, 2022). "Shah Rukh Khan's Knight Riders and MLC to build cricket stadium in Los Angeles". The Times of India. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  26. ^ Peter Della Penna (April 29, 2022). "MLC, Knight Riders team up for 10,000-seat stadium near Los Angeles". ESPNcricinfo. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  27. ^ Sajad, Kal (April 20, 2021). "The story of the Knight Riders brand". BBC Sport. Retrieved May 4, 2023.
  28. ^ "Knight Riders to build cricket stadium in Los Angeles". The National. May 1, 2022. Retrieved May 4, 2023.
  29. ^ "Shah Rukh Khan's Knight Riders Group all set to build 'a world class cricket stadium' in Los Angeles". The Indian Express. April 30, 2022. Retrieved May 4, 2023.
  30. ^ "Cricket to make summer Olympics return after 128 years for 2028 LA Games". ESPNcricinfo. Retrieved October 11, 2023.

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