The hot question raised at this afternoon's Orange County Great Park study session was whatever became of Lennar Corp.? You know, big Miami-based developer? It's Chinese-made drywall stinks? Victimized by copper thieves in Anaheim's Platinum Triangle? Recently faced financial woes and serious allegations but its CEO still got $1.1 million in '08? (Don't worry, folks, it was a pay cut!)
Partner with the City of Irvine in the Great Park development? You know? That Lennar?
Great Park board member and Irvine City Councilwoman Christina Shea notices the company suits haven't been around lately to mingle, glad-hand and nosh from the City Hall lobby's reception trays lately. "Where is Lennar," she asked today. "Why are they not showing up to these any more? . . . Lennar is not stepping up as a partner."
The answers were important to her as she considered what to possibly offer in regards to the park's 36-month development plan. As a board member, she was charged with sharing her opinions about phase one of building the park, which includes setting priorities for bringing to 500 acres of land lawns, a lake, a sports park, bicycle paths, a cultural terrace and a "working farm" agricultural district.
Great Park CEO Michael Ellzey had said previously the board's views will help shape the concrete development proposals that are scheduled to go before them at their April meeting.
One thing that concerned Shea was the former runways of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, the military facility that was decommissioned after 57 years of service in 1999 and is now being remade into the park, residences and commercial buildings by the city and Lennar.
Under the original development agreement, Lennar is supposed to be chewing up those runways so the materials may be recycled and new park uses can emerge. Not knowing where the company stands on doing this work -- or anything, seeing as how reps are no longer around -- obviously made it hard on Shea when it came to saying yea or nay to the proposals in front of her.
Ellzey later indicated the city is still negotiating with Lennar over the runways and other matters. It was nice to know they are showing up somewhere, if only the other end of a phone.
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Board members also expressed concerns about the time table for agricultural uses; whether there will be enough cable lines; the potential look and number of cell phone towers; whether there will be enough soccer fields to host a national competition; the merits of hooking in with far away city sewers vs. old base sewers; and whether, after 36 months, there will be enough "there there" to wow the masses.
Two first-phase attractions wowed board member Walkie Ray, who was "delighted" a manmade lake and cultural terrace are included. These iconic features "let the world know we are intent on this being a major metropolitan park and not just a glorified county regional park," said Ray, who has previously taken shots at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley as a place the Great Park should aspire not to be.
Beth Krom, a board member, Irvine councilwoman and announced congressional candidate, noted that the first phase of the 500-acre development is anticipated to cost $40 million, while the city is currently installing a railroad undercrossing on Jeffrey Street that costs $10 million more and is much less "compelling."
"Here we have an opportunity to dramatically evolve the park vision" at a time resources can be leveraged to actually produce something visitors will see, "so it's very exciting," Krom said.