Irvine must be a great place for a business meeting.

Irvine’s tallest tower is 20 stories.

Why else would the Orange County, Calif. city currently have 28 projects—totaling more than 10 million sq ft of office and retail space—under development?

“Irvine is one of the healthier markets in the country from an office standpoint,” says Matt Montgomery, director of real estate development for Phoenix-based Opus West Corp. “Vacancy is in the 8% range and anything less than 10% is very healthy."

Montgomery, whose company has developed more than $600 million and 1.4 million sq ft of projects in Irvine in the last year, says the city’s commercial popularity can be attributed to a “diverse economy, with financial institutions, Fortune 500 companies and law firms” leading the way. He adds that the city is ideally situated between Los Angeles and San Diego, which allows it to serve both markets.

Murray Krow, vice president of sales and marketing for the Irvine-based development firm Irvine Co., agrees that a diverse marketplace is helping keep the city busy.

“Because of our diversity, we are a little more immune to the various downfalls that can hit any market where they really focus on one source of economic industry; the Silicon Valley was a prime example of that,” Krow says.

Irvine’s resilience is being tested by trouble in the subprime mortgage industry. On April 2, New Century Financial Corp., the nation’s former second-largest subprime mortgage lender, filed for protection from its creditors in federal bankruptcy court. More than 3,000 workers lost jobs.

But Irvine has assets that can keep construction moving forward. One is land, says Douglas Williford, the city of Irvine’s director of community development.

“There are 34 cities in Orange County and the vast majority of them are built out,” Williford says. “Land that is available for the private marketplace is becoming scarce, but we still have some, and that is one of the reasons the market remains strong in this community.”

Irvine, which has a population of 194,000, currently boasts 1,300 businesses and more than 100 national headquarters. It has so much available land that officials estimate the city will not be built-out until 2020 or 2025, Williford says.

One of the most exciting projects underway in the city is Opus West’s Opus Center Irvine III, a 314,074-sq-ft, 13-story, highrise office building near the John Wayne Airport. Opus West is the owner and general contractor and Los Angeles-based Langdon Wilson is the architect.

The office project, which broke ground in August of last year, represents the third and final phase of the company's seven-year-long, 900,000-sq-ft Opus Center Irvine master plan. The building topped out last month, and crews are currently putting on its exterior skin. Completion is scheduled for August. Project costs have not been released.

“Low vacancy rates are clear evidence of the need for first-class office space, especially in the premier office market surrounding John Wayne Airport," Montgomery says.

The Irvine Co., which currently has three projects totaling more than 1million sq ft under construction in the city, is showcasing two 14-story office towers going up across the street from the Irvine Spectrum Center. They were designed by LPA Inc. of Irvine and are being constructed by St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Cos. Inc.

Work on the towers began in November 2005. The first building will be complete in May and the second in February.

A third Irvine project that has the business community buzzing is the $70 million Park Place Tower, a 600,000-sq-ft office building going up at the corner of Michelson Drive and Jamboree Road. At 20 stories, the tower will be the tallest office complex in the city’s history.

The building is owned by Los Angeles-based Maguire Properties and was designed by Dallas-based HKS Architects. Construction is being led by San Francisco-based Hathaway Dinwiddie.

The tower will sit on the northern edge of a 105-acre real estate campus known as Park Place. Construction broke ground in the summer 2005 and is slated for completion this spring.

This story originally appeared in the April, 2007 issue of California Construction.