OK, try these on.
The Los Angeles Angels of Santa Ana/Garden Grove.
University of Willowick.
Getting a little silly here, I know, but the possibilities for reuse of the Willowick Golf Course tend to make us local loyalists a tad giddy. It’s like discovering you are the heir – or heirs – of a rich uncle with a name that ends in Buffett or Gates.
As most of you probably know, the 101.5-acre site is owned by the City of Garden Grove, but is located within Santa Ana’s city limits.
As a major step forward, the two city councils met on Tuesday and voted to seek a master developer for the project, which has been described as a potentially $1 billion enterprise.
So, before we start counting our Benjamins, the big question is this: what should go there? Perhaps even more important is: what will developers want to build there?
The first three “visioning” concepts advanced so far are these:
- Willowick Stadium:A stadium and sports complex with a mixed use district of residences and a sports park with possible transit-oriented development around a proposed stop on the OC Streetcar line which will run along the northern edge of the site, dividing Garden Grove from Santa Ana;
- Willowick District:A large corporate or institutional tenant along with cultural and community gathering space, a mixed-use residential core around the OC Streetcar stop, and open space along the Santa Ana River.
- Willowick Tech:The emphasis here would be a mix of agriculture and innovation with a central urban farm, small open spaces, low-density residential and creative office spaces.
Let’s take a look at the prospects for these notions.
The stadium idea is sexy, but has one major flaw: each major stadium needs a major tenant. It’s true that the Angels are getting restless about their aging stadium in Anaheim, but the lack of freeway access at Willowick makes the location a tough sell.
Before MLS awarded a second area franchise to the Los Angeles Football Club, a soccer stadium was a possibility, but that horse has sailed.
The Willowick Tech idea has some nostalgic appeal – farms and all – but what developer would want to build X number of single-family homes when he/she could build X-squared number of townhomes and such?
In the middle is the District, but the issue there is attracting a major tenant, and – most importantly – one who will have the staying power to anchor the project. How certain, for example, are we that Tesla will still be a big deal in five years? And remember when there was a Blockbuster store on every third corner?
It was remarked at the meeting on Tuesday that the final choice would probably be “a blend of ideas.” That sounds good, unless the project turns out to be a camel, which is a horse designed by a committee.
Marilyn and I drove out to Willowick (head south on Harbor and turn left on 5th Street) and were impressed by how big and calm it is, and the nearly boundless possibilities it represents.
I’ll tell you what won’t happen. It won’t be left alone, and there’s no remodeled golf course on the horizon, either. While there will probably be some open space, it’s not going to become a regional park. There’s too much money to be made for two cities that have done a lot of belt-tightening to be that magnanimous.
At Tuesday’s meeting I heard good, encouraging things about a joint powers authority, about a sense of urgency, about mutual respect.
What I haven’t heard or seen yet is the project idea that lights up my eyes. As Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.”
So let’s see.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on alternate Wednesdays.