Thursday, March 06, 2014

Great Park air museum idea still up in the air

Delayed Great Park aviation museum could take flight in the short term in Hangar 244. 

A proposed air museum at the Great Park has been given more than most others vying for a home there, including coveted inclusion in the project's master plan and funding from the park's own budget for several years. 

But it needs a bit more to make it a physical reality, said Tom O'Hara, the principal behind the Museum of Heritage and Aviation and a retired Marine colonel who served at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

O'Hara is planning to seek funding from the Great Park and approval to set up a short-term museum display with several planes, a few military vehicles and exhibits inside Hangar 244, a space occasionally used to host events near the balloon.

“This is the perfect time now for the museum,” he said.

Hangar 244 doesn't host as many events as it had in the past. And if O'Hara gets the go-ahead by the start of the next fiscal year July 1, he expects he would be able to open the interim museum in 12 to 15 months, which would coincide with FivePoint Communities finishing the first elements of its park plan.

After originally planning to propose the idea last October, O'Hara said he expects to make his pitch sometime in April to the Great Park board and City Council. That would give city officials some time to consider the idea after they're expected to finalize the deal with FivePoint to develop 688 acres of the park into sports fields, a golf course, trails and more, this month.

Ultimately, O'Hara and his nonprofit's board still want a full-fledged museum. Great Park CEO Mike Ellzey said late last year that the project would be a “big deal” and an important addition to the park and community. A 2009 study pinned the cost at $65 million. The master plan puts it somewhere in a future area of the park dubbed the Cultural Terrace in a renovated hangar.

“But we need the time,” O'Hara said. Raising the funds to build the permanent museum could take 10 to 12 years, he said.

When the air museum is ready to acquire more aircraft besides the two it has to display, O'Hara said there will be three sources to tap:

• Military – As aircraft are retired from service, the military looks for places for them to be unloaded and stored, making museums prime locations.

• Other museums – O'Hara said he was in talks with the San Diego Air & Space Museum at Balboa Park a couple of years ago, and officials there said they had extra planes, including five or six aircraft the museum was prepared to loan immediately. But O'Hara said he hasn't talked to the museum recently.

• Private plane owners or collectors – Loaning an aircraft to a museum can be a good way to store it and earn a tax write-off.

“The hard part is getting the really unique airplanes we want,” O'Hara said, such as a Corsair fighter aircraft and other World War II-era planes.

One they wanted and got was a World War II-era PV-1 Ventura aircraft, still in the throes of repair.

“They were going to turn it into beer cans,” O'Hara said of the aircraft's fate after it was damaged in Hurricane Katrina.

Plane and simple

How much has the Orange County Great Park Corp. spent on the Museum of Heritage and Aviation?

• $253,387 for two vintage airplanes

• $957,355 for Pacific Aviation Museum's work to restore the PV-1 Ventura aircraft, ready museum plans, be the Great Park's military history "fact checker" and acquire airplanes, among other work

• $1.08 million on planning documents

How much the eventual permanent museum space is expected to cost to build?

• $65 million

Sources: City of Irvine contracts,
Great Park

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