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OC Register: Developer chosen for Tustin's 'urban village' plan near blimp hangar

by Brooke Edwards Staggs

TUSTIN - The city has tapped a San Diego developer to design a massive mixed-use “urban village” that incorporates its historic blimp hangar.

The City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved an exclusive agreement with OliverMcMillan for the 123-acre project on the former Marine Corps Air Station property.

In his presentation to city leaders, Dene Oliver, founder of the 37-year-old development firm, spoke as much about the emotions his company hopes to create through the village as he did about the architecture and physical plans for the space.

“We’re going to use our brains, but we’re going to use our hearts and we’re going to integrate the two,” Oliver said.

Initial plans from OliverMcMillan call for a project that blends residential, commercial, office, open space and entertainment uses.

The firm focuses on creating “life between the buildings,” Oliver said, with sidewalk cafes, apartment homes above tree-lined streets and space for live music and outdoor markets. He repeated words such as “artful,” “sensitive” and “sustainable” in describing his vision for the village.

Both the developer and city leaders pointed out how unique it is to have such a large piece of undeveloped property in the heart of Orange County.

“You get one chance at this. You get one shot,” Oliver said.

Over the next two years, Oliver said his team will likely bring on 50 to 75 people from as many as five architectural firms to help design a concept for the project.

They’ll be given the complicated task of figuring out how to safely reuse the 17-story blimp hangar, which was built by the Navy in 1942.

Land ownership issues also need to be resolved and infrastructure plotted. But Oliver said that’s what his firm does.

“At this point in our career, the only thing we’re interested in doing is working in really special places,” he said.

The City Council didn’t have any questions or concerns for the firm, praising the vision and partnership so far. Councilman Al Murray issued one challenge.

“It can’t be good,” Murray said. “It’s got to be great.”

With the exclusive negotiation agreement in place, Tustin and OliverMcMillan have committed to spend up to $1.5 million each as they work together to develop a concept plan, business plan and development agreement.

If they succeed in coming up with a workable plan, a specific development proposal will then likely be brought back to the City Council sometime in 2018.