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$50M+ Great Park Aquatic Facility Gets Green Light

USA Water Polo aims for '28 Olympics role

The city of Irvine is making headway in its goal to serve as a host city for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

The Irvine City Council this month approved plans for a new aquatic facility on a nearly 6-acre site at the Orange County Great Park.

The project, proposed by the city and Irvine-based USA Water Polo, will have at least two pools, including a 50-meter competition pool with 1,000 spectator seats, and a 10,000-square-foot USA Water Polo building.

It sports a project cost between $50 million and $80 million; USA Water Polo has agreed to pay $12 million of that cost and will be responsible for maintenance and utilities of its portion of the facility.

In theory, the site could host either training events for the 2028 Olympics, or actual water polo competitions during the games.

Downsized Plan

The current price tag is much less than a prior proposal, a $250 million project headed by Irvine developer FivePoint Holdings LLC (NYSE: FPH) to build an aquatic facility and adjacent field house with basketball and volleyball courts.

That 2019 plan never moved ahead.

The newly approved facility, at the least, will be included in the next Summer Olympics for athlete training, and could also host competitions, should current discussions prove to be fruitful, officials say.

“We have a commitment for Olympic training, and it’s very possible it will be used for actual competitions,” USA Water Polo Chief Executive Chris Ramsey told the Business Journal.

Construction could begin as soon as late 2023, with a goal of delivering the facility by early 2025.

“Olympic teams will now have a permanent home in a city committed to building a world-class park,” Ramsey said, adding that the facility has the potential to bring in nearly $1 billion in economic activity over the next three decades.

The new facility would also be home to the National Junior Olympics, which is said to be the largest water polo tournament in the world.

Third Life

The initial plan for the water polo facility at the Great Park kicked off in September 2018 with a negotiating agreement between the city and USA Water Polo, which expired in 2019. That year, FivePoint struck up an agreement with the city to fund an aquatic center including a new home for USA Water Polo, which had moved its headquarters from Huntington Beach to Irvine earlier that year.

The proposal found a third life this July, when the City Council approved what it calls the “Great Park Framework Plan,” which includes the addition of an aquatic facility in the sports park as part of the city’s goal to increase public pool space.

“FivePoint remains supportive,” Ramsey said, “but they have given the city autonomy to develop the Great Park further.”

The current agreement between USA Water Polo and the city runs 30 years, with two five-year extensions. The city will design the facility, with construction drawings now in the works.

International Spotlight

USA Water Polo will maintain its headquarters elsewhere in the city at 6 Morgan—not far from the Great Park—and will use its new 10,000-square-foot facility for training and meeting rooms, including a conference center and weight rooms.

“We are paying the construction cost of that facility ourselves,” Ramsey said.

It will not use the pools for more than 30% of the facility’s total available time, with the center primarily used for swim lessons, leagues and other public uses, according to city filings.

Two pools will be built initially, including a competition pool with a roof structure to provide shade and a “hedge against climate change,” Ramsey said.

“There is space for a third potential pool,” he added.

The facility aims to serve as a local base for water polo athletes from around the country while also attracting international athletes for competitions and events.

“Having these amazing athletes living and training in the city is a great thing for Irvine and the city’s youth,” Ramsey said. “People from all over the world are going to compete here.”

Great Park Framework

In addition to the aquatic facility, the Great Park Framework Plan approved in July also includes proposals for a permanent outdoor amphitheater headed by the city and Live Nation Worldwide; a botanical garden; a library; lakes; museums and other facilities for nearly 300 acres of the 1,300-acre Great Park.

OC Olympics

To date, only Anaheim is confirmed as an Orange County city that will host Olympic competitions in 2028. The Honda Center, which is prepping for a major revamp as part of the OCVibe development, will be home to volleyball events.

Irvine’s also been in talks with Major League Cricket, an upstart sports league, on lease negotiations and design approvals to build what they say will be a “world-class” cricket venue on a 15-acre parcel at the city-owned Great Park.

The stadium would be among the largest cricket facilities in the country, with a planned capacity of 10,000 that could be increased for major international events, MLC officials said.

Cricket’s currently not on the docket for the 2028 Olympics, but lobbying is underway to add it as a participating sport for the Los Angeles games.

In Huntington Beach, efforts are underway to have the city serve as a home to surfing events for the 2028 games.

—Mark Mueller

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