‘Star Wars’ Land update: Disneyland’s Rivers of America route nearly done

The steel is climbing out of the ground as “Star Wars” land continues to take shape at Disneyland.

But while that land will open in 2019, crews are rapidly finishing work on the rockwork and landscaping around the new route for the Rivers of America. The waterway is scheduled to be open to boat traffic again in the latter half of 2017, as is the Big Thunder Trail that connects Frontierland to the back side of Fantasyland.

Related to that work, the steam engine of the Disneyland Railroad that has been on display at the Frontierland/New Orleans Square station has been taken back to the Roundhouse. The remaining items on display on the other side of the tracks should be removed by Monday, May 8, as well.

Other refurbishments at Disneyland include the Guided Tours Garden and the Indiana Jones Adventure – Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the latter will reopen by summer.

Over at Disney California Adventure, workers are putting the finishing touches on the new “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!” attraction that will open to the public by Memorial Day weekend.

Those seeking an extended preview of Disney’s Johnny Depp-starring “Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth movie in the series, can do so at the Sunset Theater near Monsters, Inc.

Disney Junior is still closed, but expected to open with a new show for the summer.

Meanwhile, workers are still pouring the foundation for the Splitsville Luxury Lanes in Downtown Disney.

Click through the slideshow to see more, including some beautiful roses currently blooming at Disney California Adventure.

  • Where there was once a giant hole in the ground, concrete walls have grown in one of the show buildings under construction in “Star Wars” land at Disneyland. The project is so big, it takes two cranes working each day to keep up with the project’s needs. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Where there was once a giant hole in the ground, concrete walls have grown in one of the show buildings under construction in “Star Wars” land at Disneyland. The project is so big, it takes two cranes working each day to keep up with the project’s needs. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The scrim hiding the back end of the Rivers of America at Disneyland has been removed, allowing better views of the rock work that will be along the water’s edge when it reopens later in 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The scrim hiding the back end of the Rivers of America at Disneyland has been removed, allowing better views of the rock work that will be along the water’s edge when it reopens later in 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A worker drives a raft to Tom Sawyer Island to work on the island, as it is still closed due to construction of “Star Wars” land at Disneyland. The island is expected to open later in 2017. The refurbishment of the Sailing Ship Columbia appears to be complete too. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A worker drives a raft to Tom Sawyer Island to work on the island, as it is still closed due to construction of “Star Wars” land at Disneyland. The island is expected to open later in 2017. The refurbishment of the Sailing Ship Columbia appears to be complete too. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • This is the mother goose named Suzi at Disneyland. She appears to be keeping an eye on the photographer, or is looking for food for her and her two younglings, which the photographer named Kyleigh and Melissa. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    This is the mother goose named Suzi at Disneyland. She appears to be keeping an eye on the photographer, or is looking for food for her and her two younglings, which the photographer named Kyleigh and Melissa. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The rigging and masts shine in the sunlight on the Sailing Ship Columbia at Disneyland. The ship looks ready to set sail on the Rivers of America, but for now sits in Fowler’s Harbor. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The rigging and masts shine in the sunlight on the Sailing Ship Columbia at Disneyland. The ship looks ready to set sail on the Rivers of America, but for now sits in Fowler’s Harbor. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Spotted through a crack in the fence, two workers appear to be building a dock on Tom Sawyer Island while the back part of the Rivers of America remains dry of water during this construction phase related to “Star Wars” land at Disneyland. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Spotted through a crack in the fence, two workers appear to be building a dock on Tom Sawyer Island while the back part of the Rivers of America remains dry of water during this construction phase related to “Star Wars” land at Disneyland. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Rock work around the Rivers of America is really taking shape at Disneyland as this phase of the “Star Wars” land project nears completion. This area should open up some time in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Rock work around the Rivers of America is really taking shape at Disneyland as this phase of the “Star Wars” land project nears completion. This area should open up some time in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Trees planted behind the rock work around the Rivers of America and along the Big Thunder Trail block the views of “Star Wars” land, as was the intention all along. The area along the trail should open up at Disneyland in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Trees planted behind the rock work around the Rivers of America and along the Big Thunder Trail block the views of “Star Wars” land, as was the intention all along. The area along the trail should open up at Disneyland in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • This photo, taken through a scrim to block views by guests at Disneyland, is of the rock work and more around the northern section of the re-routed Rivers of America. The water body got a new route to make room for “Star Wars” land. The river is supposed to open to boat traffic some time in the second half of 2017, while the new land opens in 2019. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    This photo, taken through a scrim to block views by guests at Disneyland, is of the rock work and more around the northern section of the re-routed Rivers of America. The water body got a new route to make room for “Star Wars” land. The river is supposed to open to boat traffic some time in the second half of 2017, while the new land opens in 2019. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Two floating barges are covered in tarps on the eastern side of the Rivers of America at Disneyland, probably related to the eventual opening of the river to reach their final destination. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Two floating barges are covered in tarps on the eastern side of the Rivers of America at Disneyland, probably related to the eventual opening of the river to reach their final destination. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Some of the rock work around the Rivers of America appears to be nearly complete at Disneyland as the area takes shape to be open to visits by people on the river boats, or on the Big Thunder Trail some time in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Some of the rock work around the Rivers of America appears to be nearly complete at Disneyland as the area takes shape to be open to visits by people on the river boats, or on the Big Thunder Trail some time in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The steam engine that has been on display at the Frontierland/New Orleans Square Station of the Disneyland Railroad has been returned to the Roundhouse. The rest of the displays will be closed and removed by Monday, May 8, 2017. All part of the preparations to get the railroad running again some time in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The steam engine that has been on display at the Frontierland/New Orleans Square Station of the Disneyland Railroad has been returned to the Roundhouse. The rest of the displays will be closed and removed by Monday, May 8, 2017. All part of the preparations to get the railroad running again some time in the second half of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The original boiler from the #2 engine (the E.P. Ripley) was turned into a display model to explain how steam engines work. It has been on display at the Frontierland/New Orleans Square station for nearly a year while the Disneyland Railroad was closed due to the construction of “Star Wars” land. The display will be closed this weekend, and the display removed by Monday, May 8, 2018. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The original boiler from the #2 engine (the E.P. Ripley) was turned into a display model to explain how steam engines work. It has been on display at the Frontierland/New Orleans Square station for nearly a year while the Disneyland Railroad was closed due to the construction of “Star Wars” land. The display will be closed this weekend, and the display removed by Monday, May 8, 2018. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Guided Tours garden at Disneyland is getting refurbished. Besides the guided tours, this is the starting point for the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” tour too. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Guided Tours garden at Disneyland is getting refurbished. Besides the guided tours, this is the starting point for the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” tour too. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • While the Guided Tours garden is closed for refurbishment, visitors to Disneyland are directed by this sign to visit Disneyland’s City Hall to sign up for the tour, which does carry an extra charge besides the admission to the park. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    While the Guided Tours garden is closed for refurbishment, visitors to Disneyland are directed by this sign to visit Disneyland’s City Hall to sign up for the tour, which does carry an extra charge besides the admission to the park. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Indiana Jones Adventure – Temple of the Forbidden Eye is closed for refurbishment at Disneyland, but will open up in a few weeks. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Indiana Jones Adventure – Temple of the Forbidden Eye is closed for refurbishment at Disneyland, but will open up in a few weeks. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Disney Junior, a show for the younger set, is closed and getting retooled into a new show at Disney California Adventure. It is expected to open with the new show by summer 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Disney Junior, a show for the younger set, is closed and getting retooled into a new show at Disney California Adventure. It is expected to open with the new show by summer 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Seeking a preview of the fifth installment are ye? Well at Disney California Adventure, now showing is a preview of “Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales” in the Sunset Showcase theater in the Hollywood land area of the park. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Seeking a preview of the fifth installment are ye? Well at Disney California Adventure, now showing is a preview of “Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales” in the Sunset Showcase theater in the Hollywood land area of the park. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The folks in the entertainment department at Disney California Adventure have installed a new stage near the Monsters, Inc. attraction for its Disney Performing Arts. Here musical groups from a variety of schools perform each month. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The folks in the entertainment department at Disney California Adventure have installed a new stage near the Monsters, Inc. attraction for its Disney Performing Arts. Here musical groups from a variety of schools perform each month. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • While Disneyland Resort’s custodial staff prides themselves on keeping things clean and removing cobwebs from nearly everywhere, except attractions like the Haunted Mansion, they know better then to touch Spiderman’s web slinging in Disney California Adventure. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    While Disneyland Resort’s custodial staff prides themselves on keeping things clean and removing cobwebs from nearly everywhere, except attractions like the Haunted Mansion, they know better then to touch Spiderman’s web slinging in Disney California Adventure. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • What was the Tower of Terror has pretty much disappeared, but the construction walls are still up around what will be the new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! attraction in Disney California Adventure. The new attraction is expected to open to the public Memorial Day weekend of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    What was the Tower of Terror has pretty much disappeared, but the construction walls are still up around what will be the new Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! attraction in Disney California Adventure. The new attraction is expected to open to the public Memorial Day weekend of 2017. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Grizzly River Rapids is once again flowing and getting riders wet after its annual winter/spring refurbishment at Disney California Adventure. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Grizzly River Rapids is once again flowing and getting riders wet after its annual winter/spring refurbishment at Disney California Adventure. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Some things, like this Prickly Pear cactus, need no refurbishment to show their colors, as this one in the Cars Land area bloomed with bright colors at Disney California Adventure. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Some things, like this Prickly Pear cactus, need no refurbishment to show their colors, as this one in the Cars Land area bloomed with bright colors at Disney California Adventure. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • These beautiful pink roses are in the view area for World of Color at Disney California Adventure. Their name is Sexy Rexy Rose, or Rosa Floribunda, Sexy Rosa. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    These beautiful pink roses are in the view area for World of Color at Disney California Adventure. Their name is Sexy Rexy Rose, or Rosa Floribunda, Sexy Rosa. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • This planter near the parking lot tram station in Downtown Disney was getting a major overhaul by some of the Disneyland Resorts horticulture staff. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    This planter near the parking lot tram station in Downtown Disney was getting a major overhaul by some of the Disneyland Resorts horticulture staff. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Not much to see where the Splitsville Luxury Lanes is being built. Crews behind the construction are diligently working on the foundations for the building next to the Build A Bear shop in Downtown Disney. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Not much to see where the Splitsville Luxury Lanes is being built. Crews behind the construction are diligently working on the foundations for the building next to the Build A Bear shop in Downtown Disney. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The swimming pool at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is still closed, but the pool now has water in it as crews work to get it open in time for the 2017 summer season after a major refurbishment. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The swimming pool at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is still closed, but the pool now has water in it as crews work to get it open in time for the 2017 summer season after a major refurbishment. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Trees have been planted along the berm that surrounds the new route for the Rivers of America at Disneyland. Meanwhile, construction continues on the “Star Wars” land project in the foreground, with Big Thunder Mountain rising in the distance above the trees. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Trees have been planted along the berm that surrounds the new route for the Rivers of America at Disneyland. Meanwhile, construction continues on the “Star Wars” land project in the foreground, with Big Thunder Mountain rising in the distance above the trees. (Photo by Mark Eades, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Orange County Great Park: Sports park, water park, ice rink, golf course, playgrounds replacing early, grand plan

It was a grand plan.

A metropolitan oasis, with a mix of wilderness areas, museums, schools, farms, shops and homes three times the size of San Diego’s Balboa Park and every bit as beautiful. That was the early vision Irvine officials presented for the former El Toro Marine Corps base after the last Marines left in 1999.

But driven partly by economic realities, financial controversies and shifting tastes in activities and priorities, the plan for the Orange County Great Park, which sprawls north of the 5 and 405 freeway junction into the foothills, has evolved, sparking a debate about how best to serve the long-term public interest.

And the pace of decision-making on what amenities to keep, discard and adjust by the current stewards of the park’s vision, the five elected members of the Irvine City Council, has accelerated.

Construction is beginning on an Anaheim Ducks’ mega community ice rink complex and bids are being accepted for a commercially-operated water park — both more recent additions. Also, the first phase of a 175-acre sports park — including 24 tennis courts, six soccer fields, five volleyball courts and a playground plus three “championship” stadiums for soccer, volleyball and tennis — is slated to open by early summer.

The city of Irvine is developing the 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.(Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The city of Irvine is developing the 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.
(Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Some say the changes are better, more realistic and doable — a modern, dynamic approach to planning for generations of public enjoyment of scarce urban open space, at a time when when many cities are struggling to balance budgets. Planning and building the park in phases allows the city to make sure it has enough funding and is responsive to changing community needs, city officials said.

“I’m not going to make promises on what it’s going to be because we’ll all be off the council by the time we put final touches to the park,” Councilman Jeff Lalloway said. “All I can do is, we make good decisions here and now to make it something we can be proud of.”

Others, including some residents, fear a historic opportunity to transform a last, huge tract of land into a Southern California respite with iconic passive features — such as a 60-foot deep man-made canyon — is slipping away into a jumble of commercial attractions, additional housing and sport-specific activity centers.

Former Irvine Mayor Larry Agran was a leading proponent of the initial Great Park vision. He argues a council majority elected in 2012 substituted the original master plan with a “mishmash of ideas” and ceded too much control to development firm FivePoint, which was given rights to develop additional homes.

“The master plan doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “It’s a total sellout to developers.”

FivePoint chairman and CEO Emile Haddad said his company’s role in the Great Park was agreed to by the city and is a matter of public record. “The agreement speaks for itself,” he said.

He added that a number of high profile features in the park, such as the ice rinks and water park, were negotiated between the city and other companies.

Susan and Henry Samueli, center, owners of the Anaheim Ducks, drop a giant hockey puck as Michael Schulman, left, CEO of the Anaheim Ducks and Irvine Mayor Donald P. Wagner, right, kickoff the groundbreaking of Great Park Ice Sports Complex at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine on Thursday morning, February 16, 2017. It will be one of the largest public ice facilities in the country and will open in mid 2018. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Susan and Henry Samueli, center, owners of the Anaheim Ducks, drop a giant hockey puck as Michael Schulman, left, CEO of the Anaheim Ducks and Irvine Mayor Don Wagner, right, kickoff the groundbreaking of Great Park Ice Sports Complex at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine on Feb. 16, 2017. It will be one of the largest public ice facilities in the country and will open in mid 2018.
(Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Increasingly, the park’s future appears to hinge on striking a delicate balance between private sector partnerships needed to secure the funds to develop and maintain the property and preserving as much free access to amenities as possible.

Depending on the activities offered, the park could become a regional draw, attracting people from Los Angeles and even San Diego, said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Irvine pulls it off because it’s a wealthy community,” she said. “It would be a great example for other cities.”

History

The idea of a great park was born out of Irvine’s successful effort to kill a county proposal to build an international airport at the closed El Toro base.

Orange County voters in 2002 passed Measure W, which called for a combination of an urban regional park and a variety of other uses at the site.

The original proposal included 4,300 acres of open space, the Register reported at the time. That’s an area large enough to encompass Disneyland, New York City’s Central Park, San Diego’s Balboa Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

It eventually was reduced to about 1,300 acres through negotiations with Lennar Corp., which bought the base property and gave the park area  to the city in exchange for rights to develop a series of neighborhoods around the recreational amenities and open space.

In 2007, the city adopted a $1 billion Great Park master plan, featuring a two-mile long man-made canyon, a lake, trails, museums, a library, a botanical garden, a sports park, open meadows, groves, lawn areas and a wildlife corridor.

Then came the recession. The state eliminated redevelopment agency funds, which the city was counting on to pay for the park development.

The makeup of the City Council changed in the 2012 election, putting  a new Republican majority in charge. They accused Agran, a Democrat, and a nonprofit corporation created to develop the park of mismanaging funds and spending more than $250 million, with little to show for it.

A City Council commissioned audit of the project concluded the lack of a realistic, detailed budget was among the factors dooming the park project. Agran called the audit “a political witch hunt” and said all funds were accounted for.

In 2013, the newly seated council reached an agreement with developer FivePoint to construct 688 acres of the park including the 175-acre sports park, along with an 18-hole golf course, trails, agricultural fields, playgrounds, open space and a wildlife corridor.

In exchange, FivePoint won approval to build more than 4,600 additional homes adjacent to the park.

In February, the Anaheim Ducks began building its $100 million community ice complex and practice facility at the Great Park. The city also is seeking proposals from a potential operator of the proposed water park and exploring the creation of a world-class aquatics center with USA Water Polo.
In March, the council approved FivePoint’s proposal to open a 12,000-seat temporary amphitheater adjacent to the Great Park, while the city figures out its plan to build a permanent amphitheater.

In March, the council approved FivePointÕs proposal to open a 12,000-seat temporary amphitheater adjacent to the Great Park, while the city figures out its plan to build a permanent amphitheater. (Rendering courtesy of FivePoint)
In March, the council approved FivePoint’s proposal to open a 12,000-seat temporary amphitheater adjacent to the Great Park, while the city figures out its plan to build a permanent amphitheater. (Rendering courtesy of FivePoint)

And the city this month committed $38 million toward a military veterans cemetery at the former Marine base.

The golf course, ice complex and water park weren’t mentioned in the older plan.

But Lalloway said most of the amenities from the 2007 master plan, except for the canyon, are still included in the plan.

21st century reality

Loukaitou-Sideris, the UCLA urban planning professor, said Irvine’s Great Park is an unusual case in the modern era.

Massive metropolitan parks like New York’s Central Park and Griffith Park in Los Angeles were the products of the 19th century, when it was considered a city’s responsibility to provide restful escapes from teeming, rapidly growing industrial age cities, she said.

“Fast forward to the end of 20th century, it has been almost impossible for a city to acquire a big chunk of land because of the market reality,” she said.

Land in urban cores has gotten too expensive and, in suburbs such as Irvine, there’s already enough parks. Assembling a mega recreational open space is no longer a priority, she said.

But Irvine was given a rare opportunity with the closure of the Marine base, Loukaitou-Sideris said. Another notable example, she said, is the 32-acre Los Angeles State Historic Park slated to open Saturday at an abandoned rail yard.

Irvine could set an example for other cities if it secures revenue sources to build and maintain the Great Park, working with private entities, while keeping it open to everyone, Loukaitou-Sideris said.

On Thursday morning, Michael Diaz visited the Great Park for the first time with his sister and two nieces to ride a hot-air balloon, which has been a focal point of the park thus far.

The 32-year-old South Central Los Angeles resident said the park lacked enough features to convince him to drive nearly an hour for a return visit, but added he was impressed by the expanse of undeveloped areas.

Disneyland is the only reason he normally comes to Orange County, he said. But that may change if all the park’s promised features are completed, he said.

“I would definitely come here more than two to three times a month,” Diaz said. “That’s going to be a huge draw for people especially during the spring and summer time.”

Councilwoman Christina Shea, who was first elected in 1992, said she expects to see 688 acres of the park built, under the agreement with FivePoint, within the next two years.

An area designated as a 248-acre Cultural Terrace, with more costly projects such as museums, a permanent amphitheater, a lake and a library, could be completed in 10 to 15 years, she said.

“The victory is to get it built,” she said. “It’s that simple.”


Timeline

2002: Voters pass Measure W that would create an urban regional park at the closed El Toro Marine base.

2005: Lennar Corp. buys the former base for $649.5 million and offers the City of Irvine 1,347 acres for the Great Park.

2007: The Great Park Balloon opens to the public. The city approves the Great Park master plan.

2011: The state eliminates Redevelopment Agencies.

2013: The newly elected City Council begins audit of the Great Park development. The 88-acre Western Sector of the Great Park opens; features include a Hangar 244 event center, North Lawn and Palm Court. The council approves a plan for developer FivePoint to build 688 acres of the park.

2017: In February, the Anaheim Ducks began building its $100 million community ice complex and practice facility at the Great Park. In March, the council approved a proposal to open a 12,000-seat temporary amphitheater adjacent to the Great Park. And in April, the city committed $38 million toward a military veterans cemetery at the former Marine base.

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