Launching The Great Park

California’s Orange County is on its way to building one of the nation’s largest urban parks, an ambitious plan that includes a 10,000-capacity amphitheatre.

The Great Park will be located east of Irvine, dwarfing New York City’s Central Park in size and scope. Some aspects of the park are expected to open in 2008 and its buildings are slated for 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times. Officials say it may be decades before the Great Park is completed.

In a 7-to-1 vote, Great Park Corp.’s board chose as architect the design team of planner Ken Smith, who designed small parks in NYC and the new rooftop of that city’s the Museum of Modern Art.

Great Park is just that: the centerpiece will be the Great Park Canyon, with 10 miles of hiking, jogging, bicycle trails and a stream running its length, the Times said. The canyon will spill into a large terrace that will include the amphitheatre plus a botanical center, military museum, public library and other facilities, according to the paper.

At its radius will be a military park featuring 50 historic aircraft from the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Transportation shouldn’t be a problem considering the park is carved from the runways of the base.

The park will also include a 40-acre “great lawn” for picnics and other acivities, a sports stadium, a lodge, orchards, a westlands, hot-air balloons, and subterranean buildings so as to blend into the topography.

Total cost is currently set at $401 million.

Surrounding the park will be 3,700 acres of residential development.

“It’s a huge opportunity for Orange County to define itself for the world at large in a way that Central Park is for New York and Golden Gate Park is for San Francisco,” Public Policy Institute of California official Mark Baldassare told the paper.

He’s not kidding. The park will span 1,300 acres; the famous and expansive Central Park of Manhattan clocks in at 843 acres. Golden Gate Park is 1,017. Los Angeles’ Griffith Park still has the Great Park beat with 4,200 acres to its name, the Times noted, but this new undertaking is a great boon to the Orange County area by converting closed air force bases into wilderness.

“It’s going to be the largest public works project in the country for years, project consultant Sarah Catz told the paper. “It’s an opportunity to leave a legacy that will inspire and educate and thrill generations. Can you think of many projects that can do that? You can’t.”

Smith’s team was chosen from 24 designers competing from around the world, the Times said.

Details of the amphitheatre remain sketchy; a Great Park spokeswoman told Pollstar it is currently just a bullet point on a presentation board, and the “10,000 capacity” is arbitrary. Likewise, Christian Gabriel of Ken Smith told the mag that everything’s still in the conceptual stage.