Upwards of $250 million will be spent by home-builder FivePoint Holdings on amenities for Irvine’s Great Park including a much anticipated Aquatics Center that will be home to USA Water Polo and its men’s and women’s Olympic teams leading up to the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
In a public meeting on Tuesday, October 22, the Irvine City Council approved the plan with FivePoint, building on the longstanding partnership between the city and the home-builder to build the Great Park. The new commitments from FivePoint are on top of the already built soccer stadium, soccer fields, softball fields, baseball fields and baseball stadium.
USA Water Polo, the governing body of the sport and its American members, relocated to Irvine earlier this year. According to city staff, water polo has been on the mind of the City Council for several years, with USA Water Polo’s move and the proposed Aquatics Center bringing plans to fruition.
“We are so excited that we are, after many years, bringing water polo to the Great Park,” said Irvine Mayor Christina Shea.
Located in the western sector of Great Park, the Aquatics Center will be a state-of-the-art water polo complex, featuring three pools for both public and private use. As home to the USA team, the facility will be used for Olympic training, with more than two-thirds of USA Water Polo activities being open to the public. The pools are being scouted as a potential host site for the 2028 Olympics as well.
Not just to the benefit of Olympians, the Aquatics Center has much to offer the community, including water safety programs, recreational water polo leagues and city-organized swimming activities.
“Champions will be made here,” said USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey. “They will come from every neighborhood, every background, each with their own dreams and they will be challenged in the wonderful way that sport tests all of us.” Ramsey added that of those who compete at the Great Park facility, some “may one day become Olympic champions.”
Citing the approved center as a “game-changer” for his athletes, Ramsey shared with Irvine Weekly that the team is honored to be coming to Irvine.
“They are thrilled that we are consolidating everything together in one of the world’s great cities,” explained Ramsey. “They are excited to have an expanded weight room, a film room and a medical training facility, as well as something as simple as a roof over the pool to cut down on sun exposure and glare.”
He believes that the Great Park location will not only give USA Water Polo players a world-class environment to train and compete but will transform the spectator experience as well.
“Over time, Irvine will become known as one of the world’s great water polo centers,” Ramsey predicts. “I am hopeful that future civic leadership will be as enlightened as Mayor Shea and the Irvine City Council, and that we find more private partners with the vision of Emile Haddad and FivePoint, which has done something truly historic here.”
What does having a home in Irvine’s Great Park mean for USA Water Polo? “It means we will be part of a community that will attend our events, cheer for our men’s and women’s teams, and teach their families an appreciation for the toughest sport in the Olympic Games,” said Ramsey. “It will also build excitement for the L.A. Games in 2028.”
For the community, bringing USA Water Polo to the Great Park means a greater connection to the sport and more possibilities for young athletes.
“We will host many tournaments and clinics that will be open to our neighbors. We hope to become Irvine’s home team. Having our Olympians training within the community should be a real inspiration to the younger athletes,” said Ramsey.
For athletes out of the water, the Field House concept is adapted from the original approved Great Park master plan and will provide a space for sports such as indoor volleyball and basketball. A multi-level parking structure will also be built in the quadrant.
“Tuesday was more than just a hearing to approve something,” said Emile Haddad, chairman and CEO of FivePoint. “It truly was a moment of celebration.”
Haddad is elated to be a part of this project, reflecting on how he has spent the past 20 years dedicated to building a public-private partnership that would help Irvine flourish.
Lauding the City Council for its ability to put politics aside and serve its constituency by embracing partnership, Haddad said that what the public saw at the October 22 meeting was “much bigger than an agreement and is much bigger than a facility. What we saw is a celebration of the public-private partnership which we embarked upon about six years ago.”
For Haddad, that moment was an emotional one, as he described two sets of heroes, veterans and Olympians, giving politicians unprecedented applause for reaching beyond politics and acting in the public interest.
“It was a moment in time to say, that at the end of the day, it’s about your constituency,” said Haddad.
The approved Great Park sport facilities are not the only things in the works. A Lifetime Wellness Center is also planned, with an estimated 125,000 square feet dedicated to fitness, health and nutrition.
Additionally, the public saw plans for FivePoint X, a complement to the sports complex that will include hotels, extended-stay hospitality, unique food and beverage vendors, and a movie theater. This will allow for a greater synergy between the community and Great Park amenities.
Not to be overshadowed by some of the larger statements made at the meeting, FivePoint also pledged to keep the iconic Great Park balloon running, making it once again free for riders. New developments are on the way for this feature as well, as Haddad shared in an exclusive interview with Irvine Weekly that his team is currently working on adding a virtual-reality element to the ride, allowing guests to view the city through the lens of an immersive Oculus-type experience.
“We have thoughts for the balloon to make it even more usable, with an element that will excite people about what’s happening and what’s to come,” shared Haddad.
The current timeline for construction and completion of the Great Park’s sports-focused western sector stands between 18 to 24 months after construction breaks ground in 2021. The city hopes to finalize all the details of the project in early 2020, with its completion in time for the USA Water Polo team to begin training for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Met with a standing ovation, the decision to move forward with the city’s partnership with FivePoint to develop the 688 acres of land will aid in getting even more projects off the ground according to Mayor Shea. The mayor anticipates that developing the entire western quadrant will pave the way for the completion of the veterans cemetery, botanical gardens and the development of the cultural terrace.
“We are finally getting this park built,” said Mayor Shea.