Irvine’s Great Park development is steaming ahead, with about $455 million in borrowing approved for the next phase of projects.

The money will help fund priority projects recently approved by the City Council, including the 14,000-seat amphitheater, veterans cemetery and USA Water Polo aquatics facility.

Funding for the development will be raised through the issuance of bonds, paid for by a Mello-Roos tax levied on Great Park residents specifically in the Altair, Cadence Park and Novel Park neighborhoods.

Residents in other Great Park neighborhoods also pay a tax that goes toward other local improvements or facility projects meant to benefit them. These Mello-Roos taxes can increase by 2% annually, based on property values.

Some California cities create a Mello-Roos tax district within a specific area to sell bonds or collect a special tax – on top of property taxes – from residents in that neighborhood to fund infrastructure development, landscape maintenance and projects. Residents are informed they pay this tax, and this tax district can only be passed after receiving a super majority vote by those who live in the area.

For the 2021-22 fiscal year, the city collected close to $50 million in Mello-Roos taxes from Great Park residents, all going toward projects within the Great Park.

Irvine has also raised about $305 million since 2014 through the sale of bonds, said City Manager Oliver Chi. The money raised — through three rounds of issuing bonds in 2014, 2016 and 2018 — funded the construction of “backbone infrastructure and the road systems and all the neighborhood-serving infrastructure” in Great Park.

Per an agreement with FivePoint Holdings, the neighborhood developer, that was renegotiated in October, money raised from bonds between now and mid-2030 will be split between infrastructure work, including separating the train tracks from the road in that area to reduce traffic, and the city using the money for developing more of the Great Park’s offerings.

Earlier this month, councilmembers decided on the next phase of projects to be completed in the 1,300-acre Great Park within the next six years. By the summer of 2029, the park could have ready a veterans memorial garden, 15 acres of botanical gardens, a 14,000-seat amphitheater, a retrofitted Hangar 244 with places to eat, a USA Water Polo aquatics facility and several other destinations for locals and visitors alike.

The total cost for this phase of development is estimated at a little more than $720 million. Yet staffers have allocated a total budget of $1 billion as a contingency, according to city documents.

In addition to raising money through the issuance of bonds, funding for the development is expected to come from revenue generated from Great Park operations, including program fees.

Irvine leaders unanimously approved the new bond debt at a council meeting on Tuesday evening, March 28. Councilmember Mike Carroll, who heads the Great Park board, was absent from the meeting.

The Great Park is already home to a 194-acre sports complex that is twice the size of Disneyland with ball fields, a soccer stadium and sand volleyball courts, trails, an arts pavilion and, most recently, Wild Rivers, among other features.

Groundbreaking for some projects could start within the next month, Great Park Executive Director Pete Carmichael previously said. Demolition would go on until the summer of 2025 likely, but groundwork and utilities installation is expected to begin next summer.

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