Pin the $285,560 on the Non-Fundraising Fundraiser

Steven Choi: unsatisfied

Down four members, the Orange County Great Park Corporation Board of Directors voted 4-1 today to recommend the Irvine City Council spend $285,560 for a private fundraising consultant. That's for one year, and the chosen firm is not expected to actually raise any funds during those 12 months.

Instead, Chora, LLC will create a list of 100 potential funders who'd chip in for the $22 million the corporation hopes to raise for new amenities around the Great Park's 27.5-acre temporary Preview Park. An outdoor stage that can seat 3,000 people around it, a row of trees called Palm Court and several movable pod structures that can house cafes, fountains and restrooms make up these planned amenities, known collectively as “The Iconics.”

So if it is going to take a year to come up with a study to find funders of facilities that are still on the drawing board, how long until that private dough starts rolling in? Not until 18-24 months after Chora, LLC's study is delivered to the city, according to Colleen Clark, the corporation's deputy chief executive officer.

The board agreed, with director/City Councilman Steven Choi voting in dissent, to increase the corporation's 2008-09 budget $285,560 to cover the hiring of Chora, LLC. Irvine council passage seems assured as all five council members serve on the Great Park Corporation board.

The private fundraiser is not to be confused with the Great Park Conservancy, which also seeks private donations for the Great Park, nor the two private lobbying firms the corporation board has retained to pry funds out of Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Director Walkie Ray voiced hesitance over the proposal, wondering if city-owned projects elsewhere had received donations from corporations and private individuals. Staff members replied that Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Central Park in New York City have benefited from private funding sources, although Great Park chief executive officer Michael Ellzey did clarify that those donations were actually made not directly to the public facilities but nonprofit foundations. Ray voted for the private fundraiser in the end, saying that while he had reservations, he was inclined to support anything staff brought before him.

Choi was unswayed. Noting that the hiring of a private fundraiser is a “high ticket item” with nothing to show in the end but a study, he offered to save the city money by identifying potential funders himself, free of charge.

“This is the first time I've heard about it,” he said of the recommendation.

Actually, Choi was told, the 2006 contract the corporation board entered with the Great Park Design Studio, the private entity run by New York-based master architect Ken Smith, was “segregated” to include a provision that the studio could hire a private fundraiser for Preview Park elements, Ellzey informed.

In May, the studio identified five companies that could potentially perform private fundraising, sought their bids and got back two. Chora's was the better of the two, Clark said.

After Choi raised concerns about Chora, LLC and the Great Park Conservancy stepping on one another's toes – if limited liability companies and nature conservancies even have toes – Ellzey said the agreement calls for coordination between the private fundraiser and the conservancy.

That did not appease Choi, who worried about the timing of the contract given the poor economy. “I'm not sure this is the right time and the right investment,” he said.

But director and fellow Councilman Suhkee Kang seemed to sum up the feelings of the rest of the panel when he said, “We have to really think aggressively on this project. The-sky-is-falling thinking won't move this project forward.”


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