Retorts: The perfect idea for Willowick?

WILLOWICK Golf Course its owned by the City of Garden Grove but is within Santa Ana city limits (Tribune photo).

OK, try these on.

The Los Angeles Angels of Santa Ana/Garden Grove.

University of Willowick.

Willowick Acres.

SOGG (South of Garden Grove).

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.


3 replies »

  1. How do they channel the lake that forms there every few years. Maybe drive by there again this Sunday and see what it looks like

  2. Orange County Equestrian and Convention Center
    SA and GG present OCECC
    Home site of the Valencia Polo Club and …

    Community benefit potential, first. OC Sheriff mounted enforcement headquarters as well as top tier culinary school, urban farm, growing edibles and flowers, for events. At risk youth work and therapy hub with CASA (court appointed youth program) and with disabled kids or special needs adults care giving organizations. “Tired, dirty kids are good kids.” (My Opa would say). Teach. To clean Sheriff horse stalls, remove muck and haul to state of the art anaerobic composting area. Teach to grow food, to cook great food. “My kid the chef” is the new “my kid the doctor, lawyer”. These are the community benefit possibilities and can be done in partnership with high school, college programs, as well as established non profits from both cities. I see a K9 LEO training area based here also.

    Main Event, revenue source …

    Santa Barbara mission/rancho style. A coastal and country life fusion. Perfect for weddings, quinceaneras, conventions, conferences. Revenue a go go. Always busy. Events modeled, scheduled in tandem with Anaheim Convention Center via Resort District liasons and maybe even lined up to piggy back on them, their overflow. I don’t need to reiterate the revenue potential of conventions. Conventioneers would love this style, elegant coast and old California provenance. Equestrians from other states, countries, there are many, would love a hub like this. Ride horses down to the beach! But also, the old style trolley could take them to explore both cities further, down towns, literally. Horse show, national dog show. Los Tigres del Norte events! (An ACC staple since 80s)

    Retail area for world and craft artisan market. Maybe even a Steelcraft 2 on the side, near the farm. World class polo attracts investment money types for both cities to schmooze, BBC ones, for other projects. Polo takes us back historically to when we had the Valencia Polo Club in GG, in what is now Garden Grove Blvd and Newland. Douglas Fairbanks, Will Rodgers came to play, in Garden Grove! Horse barns with chandelier lighting!

    Horses are multicultural, revered, by all nations. It would be a way to draw people, attract investment money for later projects, help kids, have sheriff mounted enforcement in center of OC, reuse the Santa Ana River for horse riding, too. It used to be the most fun to ride all the way down to PCH.

    Charro events. The charreada in the national sport of Mexico! We have world class charros living in Norco, San Juan Capistrano and in Coto de Casa. An annual charreada would be a huge traditional event to have. Big revenue. The arena can be designed to be used for many events besides horse ones. An open air area to use besides the indoor convention halls and meeting rooms. Horses link it it all. The horse element is the draw. Surf and turf.

    As cities become more urban, more Gotham, we need a community center hub that takes us back to our roots of early missions, ranchos and horses. It’s historical, it’s distinctive and it’s a common core history for both cities.

    Yorba Family Ranchos, circa 1850: (1) Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, (2) Rancho Cañon de Santa Ana, (3) Rancho Lomas de Santiago, (4) Rancho La Sierra, (5) Rancho El Rincon, (6) Rancho Las Bolsas. Los Yorba owned both our cities’ land before any of us were a twinkle in anyone’s eye. A museum and cultural center within the complex would honor these historical roots. Visitors would love this and it must be done for OC youth to further learn about our Orange County beginnings. Needless to say, Valencia orange trees need to be prominent in the landscaping design, along with milkweed for monarch butterflies to honor the land’s metamorphosis.

    This concludes my preliminary presentation. Thanks for reading.

  3. beebeebeeleaves; comment from above! Go for it!!! Love the idea and presentation😃 we have such a rich and diverse history here in Orange County, especially within the cities of Santa Ana and Garden Grove. So much to learn and appreciate. We have great youth in our cities but our cities are not investing enough time and effort in bringing community to our youth. We need the youth to be invested in our communities if we want to ever seen positive change that last. We are losing our communities and the history behind their development. Horses like you suggested makes perfect sense. Horses are used in therapy sessions all the time. They could bring a sense of pride and instill a calming nature in our communities. They would tie us together and to our roots.
    Go, share your idea, with anyone and everyone who has the ability to bring about such a growing change to our cities. We need to work together if we are want to give our youth the best possible chance to create change in the world. Teaching basic life skills, empowering our youth and young adults by teaching the importance of volunteer work and giving back to their communities, teaching them to invest their time and money into making their community a place they want to live and to feel proud of. Giving them the tools they need and helping them gain work experience as well as building a solid work ethic and the confidence to raise and take care of their future families. There is no better investment in a community than that! I support your idea 100%
    Now all you need to do is run with it. Don’t just sit with the idea and not share it with those who can make your idea a reality. All you can do is try and keep talking until someone hears you and helps you develop your idea.
    Go for it!!

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