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Developers vying for shot at old City Hall land

Newport City Council expected to vote on one of three proposals — two hotel projects and a mixed-use residential development.

July 05, 2013|By Jill Cowan
  • Sonnenblick Development proposed a 148-room high-end luxury hotel, with 15 townhouse suites and 12 free-standing villas. The hotel would also include underground parking, along with other amenities.
Sonnenblick Development proposed a 148-room high-end… (Courtesy Sonnenblick…)

The morning was chilly, the marine layer still firmly blanketing the Balboa Peninsula.

"This is Ground Zero for what people think about as Newport Beach," said longtime resident and developer Bob Olson.

The grounds of Newport Beach's now-vacant former City Hall didn't look like much. A remote religious shrine tucked in the wilds of Thailand might have had more visitors at that moment.

But Olson, looking at what for decades had served as the city's civic core, along Newport Boulevard, saw a unique 130-room hotel, complete with a spa, rooftop bar and upscale dining options, built in a style that would pay tribute to the community's nautical history.

On Tuesday, from the still glitteringly new confines of a much different City Hall near Newport Center, the Newport Beach City Council will consider whether to accept a staff recommendation and move forward with Olson's vision or choose one of two other proposals for the 4.3-acre site. At the 7 p.m. meeting, the public will also have one more chance to weigh in on the matter.

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The Shopoff Group, which is also working with the city on the planned Uptown Newport development near John Wayne Airport, proposed a mixed-use residential development, with 99 units renting for an average of about $5,058 per month. The proposal also includes underground parking, along with a public plaza and 15,000 square feet of commercial space.

Sonnenblick Development proposed a luxury hotel, but at a higher price point than the one proposed by Olson's firm, RD Olson Development. Sonnenblick's proposed 148 rooms would go for an average daily rate of $371, versus Olson's $279. The proposed Sonnenblick hotel, which would include about a dozen each of townhouse suites and free-standing villas, would also have a spa and rooftop bar, as well as underground parking.

According to the report, the RD Olson proposal fit best with the city's vision of the surrounding Lido Village, architecturally and in terms of public access. Furthermore, while both hotels were projected to better stimulate activity in the area than homes, concerns about the viability of the Sonnenblick hotel because of its high price point meant the RD Olson proposal won out with staff on an economic level.

Residents and officials hope that whichever project is chosen, it will revitalize Lido Village, which has languished with vacant storefronts and little tourist traffic.

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