A Billion Here, A Great Park There

"A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money", runs the quip that is the only reason most people who remember Senator Everett M. Dirksen remember him at all.  And news of the Great Park in this morning's Times brings that quote, if not Everett M., to mind.

Orange County's Great Park, envisioned as a dramatic landscape of man-made lakes, streams and a rugged canyon in the middle of suburbia, will cost more than $1 billion to create.

The new estimate, revealed during a park board study session last week, reflects costs of the park's updated design. The original estimate was far less than $1 billion.


The new cost estimate reflects the design of Ken Smith, a New York landscape architect, who heads the park's design team.

The Great Park will include a botanical garden, museums and foot bridges, athletic fields, research facilities, wildlife corridor and miles of trails.

Tethered-balloon rides are set to launch this summer, although a nearby mini-park won't be ready for a year, officials said.

The initial phase is expected to cost about $450 million and will feature a visitor center, athletic fields, orchards and a park entrance with fountains, reflective pools, a cafe and a 300-foot-wide rectangular steel gateway.

But Yehudi Gaffen, a design team spokesman, told the park board that planning and cost estimates "will change many, many times" as the master plan evolves.

For example, the amphitheater can have a wide cost range depending on how the structure is built and the number of seats, he said.

Costs per seat can be a low $1,000 or up to $20,000, depending on the sophistication of the theater, Gaffen said. "We assumed a cost of $7,000 per seat with a 10,000-seat theater, so we embedded an estimate of $70 million."

"At least, that's a starting point," he added

Yeah, a starting point… we're not talking real money yet.

Not to worry, though-- even if the new starting point is well beyond than the old finish line.

Money for the work is expected to come from fees and taxes from the housing that will be built on the edges of the park.

"That means no new taxes for the citizens of Irvine," said Michael Pinto, a park board member.

According to the Dirksen Congressional Center, the late Senator never said the famous quote attributed to him.  In fact, Dirksen once explained that, "A newspaper fella misquoted me once, and I thought it sounded so good that I never bothered to deny it."  Hopefully, Mr. Pinto's reassurance about the Great Park's finances isn't just one more line in a newspaper story that sounds good, but has no reality beyond the page.


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