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Commentary: Newport built a civic center of which we can be proud

May 02, 2013|By Martin A. Brower

With completion of the Newport Beach Civic Center, the city of Newport Beach has a civic landmark in which it can take pride.

The move from the ugly, crumbling, crowded City Hall that served this city for so many years has finally taken place.

In the late 1960s — more than 40 years ago — I was directing public relations for the Los Angeles-headquartered architectural firm of Welton Becket and Associates when the Newport Beach City Council selected our firm to plan and design a civic center. Our firm was highly regarded for recently completing the Los Angeles Music Center, and we cherished the concept of creating a center of efficiency and beauty for Newport Beach.

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The site selected was in Newport Center, open acreage near the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. A dynamic plan evolved, including a City Hall, police and fire headquarters, and a municipal court.

Only one problem: The city had to pass a bond issue to fund the project. The bond issue was rejected by the voters, some of whom wanted the City Hall to remain where it was; some of whom did not want City Hall to be near Irvine Co. offices; and all of whom did not want the city to squander funds on a new municipal complex.

So the City Hall remained where it was on the Balboa Peninsula and continued to deteriorate.

Now we have a sparkling new Civic Center. The cost, probably less than $131.4 million, is a bargain because the Civic Center was built at a time of low construction costs and low interest rates. The resulting project will serve the city and its citizens well for the next 100 years or so.

It is so enjoyable to make fun of a government venture, and nearly everyone seems to want to join the bandwagon of calling the project a Taj Mahal — what a trite phrase — and to erroneously tell of budget overruns.

In actuality, the city has come out way ahead — an efficient City Hall, a 16-acre park, an expansion of the Central Library, an emergency response center, a community gathering place and a much-needed parking structure for only $134 million.

Go see it for yourself. Enter the Central Library, walk up the new staircase to the plaza between the library and the City Hall, and stand or sit on the lovely plaza — in fact, get a cup of coffee at the new coffee shop there and then walk through your new City Hall.

Years from now, you will point out the Newport Beach Civic Center to visitors. They will gasp when you tell them that it had cost less than 10 homes along the Newport Coast.

MARTIN A. BROWER lives in Newport Beach.

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