After years of on-and-off discussions with USA Water Polo over building an aquatics center at the Great Park, Irvine leaders are exploring a partnership between the city and the Irvine-based organization that inches plans for a new water facility closer to reality.

The City Council on Tuesday approved a partnership agreement with USA Water Polo, the nation’s governing body for the sport, which would give the organization use of a certain portion of the aquatics facility and priority scheduling if the city decides to go through with plans for its construction.

The facility, which city officials aim to develop on about 5 acres in the western sector of the Great Park, is estimated to cost between $50 million and $80 million, City Manager Oliver Chi said.

Under the partnership agreement, USA Water Polo would pay $12 million toward construction of the venue and get exclusive use of 10,000 square feet of it for its offices, classrooms and locker rooms. While scheduling the organization’s events would be prioritized, their use of the facility would be capped at around 25% to 30% of the total operating hours of the facility.

Chi said “nothing about this agreement sets anything in stone per se, but it provides the staff with direction as it relates to how we should be thinking about designing this facility moving ahead.”

The City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the agreement. Council member Larry Agran, who cast the only no-vote, expressed concern over the exclusivity of USA Water Polo’s use of an eventual facility, wary that the agreement would spurn the needs of residents wanting to use the pools for recreation.

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