Irvine‘s Planning Commission on Thursday, Nov. 16, unanimously approved a community commercial retail center on a roughly 11-acre site at the southern portion of the Great Park Neighborhoods. The retail center will be 1.5 miles from Pavilion Park, about 1.25 miles from Solis Park and Altair and a half-mile from Cadence Park.
It would also be adjacent to a proposed residential neighborhood of approximately 684 units located west of Bosque and south of Carmine.
Construction is targeted to start early next fall and wrap up in the first quarter of 2026.
The proposed retail center will include a grocery store, two drive-thru restaurants and other typical tenants like a dry cleaner, a nail salon and a dentist’s office. There will also be a variety of food options that include sit-down and fast-casual restaurants.
“What we’re building here in Irvine is our take on a traditional neighborhood center … but we’re trying to do it in a format that invites everyone to come, spend time and elevate the community,” said San Juan Capistrano-based developer Dan Almquist.
Developer Almquist, formerly known as Frontier Real Estate Investments, was tapped in August to plan and develop a food and retail center at the Great Park as part of the city’s $1 billion investment to establish the park as one of the world’s largest municipal parks.
Residents of Irvine’s Great Park Neighborhoods have waited for a retail center for years. Over the past decade, FivePoint, Great Park’s master developer, has extensively planned and marketed community retail sites at the Great Park Neighborhoods, according to the Great Park Task Force (15 appointed residents who represent the Great Park Neighborhoods), but none of them were brought to fruition.
Some of the residents bought into the older neighborhoods after they were promised retail, said Jackie Wong, who’s lived in the Great Park Neighborhoods since 2020.
“We were in Portola Springs before that,” Wong said. “When we first bought into Portola Springs seven years ago, the original plan was to create a food market. Then it became LifeTime Fitness. We have seen retail plans just evaporate.”
Without a retail center where Portola High School students could walk over to for a bite to eat at lunch, Wong said, some kids “drive furiously” to Woodbury Town Center or Foothill Ranch Towne Center at lunchtime. Both places are roughly four miles away from Portola High.
That’s dangerous because lunch is only around 25 minutes, Wong said.
“I hear the cars peeling out,” said Maureen Kim, who lives near the school parking lot.
Many residents are welcoming of Almquist’s plans for a retail center. David Lingerfelt, a seven-year resident of the Great Park Neighborhoods, said while he can’t fully shake off concerns about retail plans falling through, due to that happening several times in the past, he’s much more confident that Almquist’s plan for a retail center will matriculate.
“We’re actually seeing layouts. We’re seeing elevation drawings,” he said. “The one thing that needs to shine through is Almquist’s commitment to community outreach. It’s been spectacular.”
“I know it’s been long-awaited, I know it’s highly anticipated, and I cannot be excited enough about having an Almquist development at the Great Park Neighborhoods,” said FivePoint spokesperson Kory Lynch.
Ian McKay, who spent his childhood in Irvine and came back to the city with his family several years ago, said he was promised retail when he bought his place in 2017.
“At the time, I remember FivePoint had a FivePoint X plan that showed sort of a boutique-style retail site, and a lot of residents were excited about that,” McKay said. “We bought into that; everyone bought into that with that expectation.”
McKay said he wants to see a gym at the retail center, as well as a place where he can watch sports, similar to a Yard House.
“Where you can have a drink and walk home,” he said. “We don’t have that at Great Park.”
And like most other residents, McKay drives out to Woodbury Town Center for groceries. But a downside to Woodbury is the parking and congestion, he said.
“I think putting retail on the forefront is a very palatable move because a lot of Great Park residents, such as myself, want to see a way to gravitate away from just the Woodbury Town Center,” said Planning Commissioner Raj Bhatia, a resident of the Great Park Neighborhoods.
The retail center is independent of the city’s plans for a food and beverage hub at the Great Park but designed to complement it, according to a staff report.
The project site will ultimately include eight one-story buildings spread over approximately 77,000 square feet, as it’s designed.
Under the current design, four buildings with inline retail stores — designed to accommodate multi-tenants — and gathering spaces for residents will be clustered at the southern end of the center. The southern end of the retail center, according to the staff, will allow for connectivity with the Great Park via the proposed food and beverage area.
The commission’s decision, which heads to the City Council for final approval, allows flexibility for the developer to make adjustments to the square footage of the planned retail center.
Additional land uses such as breweries, game arcades, child care centers and health clubs may require further evaluation and additional permitting beyond the uses allowed with the current master plan.
For retail, Almquist said he anticipates having local, regional and potentially some national tenants.
“We really try to have a third to third to third plan: so a third local talent, a third regional and third national,” he said.
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Artwork that tells the story of the community will also be an important part of the developer’s vision for the retail center, Almquist said.
“One of the things we do quite a bit is we work with local artists and do unique murals and artwork throughout the project,” he said. “It adds a depth to the projects.”
When asked by Planning Commission Chair Branda Lin if there are possible ways to fast-track the project, Almquist said he has “never gone this fast on a project.”
“The timeline we talk about is an accelerated timeline as it is,” Almquist said. “We will go as fast as we can. I understand how important it is to have retail at the Great Park.”