City Requests Proposals for Restaurant on Newport Pier

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The vacant building at the end of the pier. — Photo by Christopher Trela
The vacant building at the end of the pier.
— Photo by Christopher Trela

City Council heard several options for the empty building at the end of Newport Pier Tuesday and ultimately directed staff to send out a request for proposals for restaurants.

There has been interest in the building from several restaurants, according to staff, including the owners of Bluewater Grill, who toured the space last week.

Renting the facility out for events, building a bait shop and food trucks were among the other suggestions.

Coastal Commission staff were receptive to the idea, according to staff. A Coastal Development Permit would be required to remove the building, but not if they only maintain or made repairs to the existing building.

“Part of me really would like to see us do something different,” councilwoman Nancy Gardner said, but another “part of me is really lazy.”

It would be easier to let a restaurant or business come in and work with what already exists, she said.

At their November meeting, the council discussed whether to renovate, replace or remove the building, and asked staff to look into the issue. At that time, council members were split on what to do with the space, but all were concerned with the California Coastal Commission’s involvement.

The CCC staff was non-committal regarding the type of conditions they might place on the pier if the building was removed, staff said, but emphasized that their concern would be with maintaining public access.

Councilman Keith Curry wanted to confirm that Bluewater Grill, or another interested restaurant, would have their economics worked out. He also noted that a restaurant would meet the commission’s concern for maintaining public access.

Mayor Rush Hill questioned if the tenants would be responsible for the improvements.

Council had previously discussed including a city contribution for improvements, which may be the only way to get tenants interested, “given the extent of improvements required for to the building,” staff said.

The scope and the scale of that contribution would be vetted during the RFP process.

Staff estimated there would be about $300,000 to $400,000 in needed improvements.

If the city is going to contribute some funds to the project, Gardner asked if they could consider working with the tenant to incorporate some of the other ideas suggested.

“We could still do something besides just have people fishing,” she said, “and not totally jettison some of the creative thinking that came out of the first session.”

Councilman Tony Petros said he is one of the more vocal proponents for a flexible space at the end of the pier.

“However, you never want to give up the bird in the hand,” he said. “I am interested to see what this proposal would bring to us.”

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