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A slice of the Great Park

Construction begins on the North Lawn, which is to feature soccer fields, bike path and more.

October 02, 2010|By Sarah Peters, sarah.peters@latimes.com
  • Construction is under way at the Orange County Great Park North Lawn Thursday, Sept. 30.
Construction is under way at the Orange County Great Park… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

IRVINE — Orange County will have its Great Park — or at least the small segment of it that officials were able to budget for — by spring 2011, board directors said this week.

The North Lawn is the first part of the first phase of the Western Sector Park Development plan. The 19.5 acres will include walking and biking paths, a turf lawn, a parking lot and a multipurpose recreational field that could support up to three temporary soccer fields.

While the official start of construction was Thursday, crews have been grading the area for three weeks, carefully avoiding underground power lines and protecting existing trees, according to a presentation at the Orange Country Great Park Corp. board of directors' meeting last week.

Once the North Lawn is completed, crews will begin work on the South Lawn, which will feature three permanent, lighted soccer fields to be completed by 2012, and then the rest of the Western Sector with possibilities of a wildlife corridor and an agricultural district, for a price tag of about $70 million.

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"I can envision soccer practices, youth practicing lacrosse and flying kites, and doing other activities that will bring a special energy here," Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang said as tractors and construction crews briefly paused their work in the rocky dirt behind him. "It is the type of energy that defines the city of Irvine and will define the Great Park in the near future and the years to come."

The construction comes after years of setbacks in which officials have been heavily criticized for their lack of progress since the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station property came under city control in 2005.

"There are a lot of people who are heavily invested in our failure. They, after all, wanted an airport," said Councilman Larry Agran, referring to nearly 10-year struggle over what to do with the old base. "They didn't get an airport and now they're complaining. …We've been very clear that this is a long-term project — Central Park took 20 years to build, and San Diego's Balboa Park took 75 years to build."

On Thursday, officials cited rough economic times and a recently settled lawsuit between Lennar Corp. and Forest Lawn Mortuary for halting development.

The Western Sector project was designed to be able to proceed around those obstacles, said Mike Ellzey, the park's chief executive.

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