The Great Park Board on Tuesday, Jan. 9, unanimously threw its support behind a 5,000-seat venue to be set up at North Lawn, a 7-acre multipurpose recreation area at the Great Park Sports Complex, and cater to Pacific Symphony‘s summer performance calendar. The City Council, in its meeting later Tuesday, approved the plan and authorized staff to secure a stage and other necessary equipment.
The temporary venue will be set up in time for the 2024 summer season and will remain throughout the end of the 2026 season or until Irvine completes construction of its new amphitheater, which is slated to open in time for the 2027 summer concert season.
Irvine will need to invest up to $2.5 million annually for this venue. The City Council gave staff the go-ahead Tuesday to spend up to $600,000 for a stage and other initial equipment that may be more difficult to procure.
City leaders had two options to choose from: the 5,000-seat venue or one that would seat around 8,000 guests and host 35-40 shows per season featuring nationally touring artists.
The smaller amphitheater, which won out, will be set up primarily as a home for Pacific Symphony and host approximately 10-12 annual “concert in the park” style shows on weekends from May to October — likely to be held jointly with other Great Park events, such as the Irvine Nights night market, and be free of cost — on top of five Symphony shows.
When asked by Mayor Farrah Khan whether the smaller venue would still be able to attract commercial, live events, assistant city manager Pete Carmichael said it’s unlikely that nationally touring artists will book into the amphitheater.
“One way to think about this is ‘concert in the park plus,’” he said. “Probably above the level that we see at Mike Ward (Community Park) — that’s great talent — but it would probably be something between that and what you might see at a national touring facility at FivePoint Amphitheatre.”
Other professional acts, besides Pacific Symphony, could still book into the venue if they choose, city manager Oliver Chi said.
Staff had proposed an 8,000-capacity venue to the Great Park Board in November, but city leaders decided to return early this year with other options on the table after residents expressed concerns about the lack of a concrete cost analysis and negative impacts that might be felt by the nearby community.
Councilmember Tammy Kim on Tuesday initially spoke out against the smaller venue, saying it is “way too small.”
“I believe that Irvine residents deserve as little disruption as possible to the high caliber live music options that we’ve grown accustomed to,” said Kim. “I know Irvine Nights is very fun, I’ve been there, but the thought that our live music experience has dwindled down to Irvine Nights is quite honestly very sad to me.”
Ultimately, she voted for the more modest facility staff recommended, which was billed as having less traffic and noise impacts that will be felt by nearby residents and users of the sports complex. It will also have less financial risk, Carmichael said.
While the city will need to invest up to approximately $2.5 million annually to establish the venue, it will provide greater cost certainty by being less dependent on multiple streams of revenue built into the larger venue, which include a wide range of food and beverage choices and merchandise sales, Carmichael said. Combining with other programming and taking advantage of several revenue sources including sponsorships and parking could likely offset a substantial amount of costs, he said.
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The smaller amphitheater will still use the entirety of North Lawn, but it will feature festival seating and allow lawn chairs and picnicking without the permanent infrastructure that the larger venue would require. That leaves an opportunity for people to use a couple of the fields on weekends when there isn’t an event on the North Lawn, and avoid affecting large events like the Orange County Soccer Club games and the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, Carmichael said.
“Bleacher seating requires concrete footings underground,” he said. “Really to make that cost-effective, those would need to be left in place year-round, which has a longer term, bigger impact on other users of those fields.”
The 5,000-capacity venue will also mitigate potential noise issues felt by the nearby Travata retirement community and parking spaces could be accommodated using only city-owned lots.
Kim and Councilmember Larry Agran suggested implementing a shuttle to help relieve congestion in some of the neighborhoods. Agran pointed to the Irvine Train Station parking structure as a potential spot where people could meet and be transported to the temporary amphitheater and asked city staff to explore that possibility.
The FivePoint Amphitheatre, which opened in 2017 as a temporary bridge between the demolished Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and a permanent venue to be built at the Great Park, closed last October after a final concert by the Zac Brown Band. Due to ongoing FivePoint residential development in that area, there wouldn’t have been any way to continue producing shows in the current space.
City staff plans to return to the Board on a later, unspecified date with a finalized operational plan and an agreement with the Pacific Symphony that identifies cost and revenue-sharing opportunities.