Building the Orange County Great Park: Is This Thing “Buildable”?

Note: The Orange County Great Park, which was once the El Toro Marine Air Base and is approximately twice the size of New York’s Central Park, is being developed by the City of Irvine as one of the first great metropolitan parks of the 21st century. The City’s vision is to provide a recreational, cultural and social gathering spot for Orange County residents as well as for others who are near to or far from Orange County. As Central Park, Balboa Park and Golden Gate Park are great metropolitan parks built in previous eras, the City’s vision for the Orange County Great Park is that it will be a great metropolitan park built in this era.

Homebuilder Lennar owns and is developing the land that, roughly speaking, surrounds the publicly-held city land. Lennar’s vision has been to create housing adjacent to the public development as well as build commercial, educational and recreational features.

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Because Lennar’s development plans have changed and therefore some of the residential tax money that Irvine and the Orange County Great Park Corporation had planned to use for the Great Park development will not be readily available, some have predicted the demise of Irvine’s Great Park development. To determine if the building of this metropolitan park is in serious jeopardy, I thought that I would take a look at the Great Park budget. The funding for any large development is complex, so I will not try to explain all the ends and out of the funding mechanisms for this metropolitan park (maybe at some other point, if time permits), but here is an overview.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Lennar will not be starting their Orange County Great Park development with the building of high-end residential as they had originally planned. Instead they will start with the building of educational and commercial. Since part of the funding for the Great Park will come from property taxes, this change will have an impact on the development plans for the Great Park. The Great Park Corporation will not have the advantage of the residential property taxes in the near term; however, it will have the benefit of the retail sales tax and commercial property taxes. Also, other revenues are available for the Great Park development. I’ll write more about the revenue in an upcoming post. Tomorrow I’ll write in more detail about the Great Park budget and start answering the question: “Is this thing buildable?”

This is part one of a three-part series on building the Orange County Great Park. Tomorrow’s post: “Building the Orange County Great Park: The Budget