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Balancing the “Private” in a Public-Private Partnership: Orange County Great Park

Recently I talked with Mike Ellzey, the Chief Executive Officer of the Orange County Great Park Corporation, the nonprofit public benefit organization charged with the design, construction, and maintenance of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. We spoke soon after the city struck a new deal with the project’s related housing developer that puts the park back on solid ground after the 2008 real estate crash and the state’s dissolution of its redevelopment agencies threatened its completion.

OCGP2The Orange County Great Park is the official name for the park portion of a reuse plan for the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, in Irvine, California. The 2002 voter approval for this very ambitious project ($1.4 billion budget) – after 3 previous initiatives failed – envisioned a team of partners to bring off the project, including a public nonprofit corporation charged with the design, construction, and maintenance of the Orange County Great Park.

Following the annexation of the property by the city of Irvine in 2003, the Navy held an online auction for the El Toro property. Miami-based Lennar Corporation purchased the entire property for $650 million and entered into a development agreement with the City of Irvine. Under the terms of the development agreement, Lennar was granted limited development rights to build the Great Park Neighborhoods in return for land and capital – $200 million – to allow the construction of the Great Park. Continue reading

Community-Led Park Partnerships: It’s Not Just the Money

The Cully neighborhood is considered the most “parks-deficient” neighborhood in Portland. Citywide, 40 percent of residents live within a quarter-mile of a park. In Cully, only 24 percent do, with almost 23 percent of neighborhood children living in poverty.

Cully 1For over twenty years, Cully residents set their sights on the conversion of a 25-acre grassy field in the neighborhood, well-located and large enough for a range of community activities – even if it happened to be the site of a former landfill.

Tony DeFalco, Coordinator for Let Us Build Cully Park! (LUBCP!) recalls, “The community wanted it badly enough to figure out a way to build it. You had 25 acres, active methane collection and multiple partners involved in managing the site. We knew we needed to raise capital to organize a working coalition.”

Verde, a non-profit dedicated to building wealth in low-income communities, has been working with residents of Cully Park but as early as 1996, residents and the Cully Association of Neighbors negotiated with the mayor for a parks master plan. In 2010, Verde spearheaded development of LUBCP!, which was formed with the help of a $150,000 grant from the Northwest Health Foundation. Their coalition included 16 other organizations to maintain the community’s presence with municipal, environmental, and public health agencies through the redevelopment process for the site. Continue reading

Forging New Partnerships in Birmingham

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

aerialphotographRMPBirmingham, AL
Like many industrial legacy cities across the United States, Birmingham is undergoing a transition.  Formerly the “industrial capital of the South,” the city is moving away from steel production to a more knowledge-based economy, including banking and medical research.  Fifteen minutes from downtown, the iron ore-rich mountain that so many companies depended on for raw materials has been undergoing a transition of its own, thanks to a dedicated group of citizens and community leaders in Birmingham who came together to create Red Mountain Park.

Continue reading

Paradise Built on a Parking Lot

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

Santa Monica, CA
Built on the site previously occupied by the RAND Corporation’s headquarters and more recently a surface parking lot, Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square (once collectively known as the Civic Center Parks) encompass 7 acres in the heart of Santa Monica. The completion of these parks represents the first step toward completing a plan for the 67-acre civic center area, which re-envisioned the area as a vibrant neighborhood with improved linkages to the Santa Monica Pier, Palisades Park, downtown Santa Monica and Santa Monica State Beach.  Continue reading

Denver’s New Freedom Park

Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.

NFParkDENintDenver, CO
New Freedom Park was built on a 2-acre vacant lot in an east Denver neighborhood that is home to hundreds of refugees from countries like Burundi, Somalia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Nepal, most of whom live in affordable housing communities.  Before the park was built, the weed and broken glass-strewn vacant lot on East 13th Avenue became the site of a small community garden and a gathering place for residents.  There was clearly a need and enthusiasm for the space to be developed into a larger garden and even a park, but the city did not have adequate resources for design and construction, so the Department of Parks & Recreation approached The Trust for Public Land about taking on the project.
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