Council Gets Earful, OKs Study of City Hall Site

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The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday decided to go ahead with a study of the viability of a hotel in the soon-to-be “old” City Hall location.

Housing options will also be examined, and whether the parking included with that idea would be public or for residents only will be clarified.

The decision came after an afternoon study-session hearing in which a group of mostly Lido Island residents opposed the apartments and parking lot and supported the idea of a hotel on the site at Newport Boulevard and 32nd Street.

The city is looking to develop the 4.26 acres that currently comprises the City Hall and Council Chambers and will be vacated once the new civic center on Avocado Avenue is completed. The move is planned for the end of this year.

“Somebody needs to chart this out and put some kind of a schedule together on how we’re going to do this so that it all comes together in a way that makes some sense,” councilman Ed Selich said.

Selich estimated that this kind of study would cost about $12,000.

The council discussed possible uses for the location, including an apartment or condominium complex, with up to 99 units; commercial and civic buildings, up to about 32,000 square feet; a hotel with up to about 75 rooms; a public plaza; a fire station; and public parking.

A few residents said they attended Councilmember Rush Hill’s presentation and that it seemed as though a decision had “all but been made” for an apartment complex with parking, but were glad to hear that it was still open for discussion.

The council also heard from quite a few Lido Isle residents in support of the idea of a boutique hotel being built on that site.

Lido Isle resident Linda Klein read a letter from Patricia Hilton of Hilton Builders in support of the hotel.

“We strongly feel that the best use of the City Hall property would be a boutique hotel,” Klein read. “This area needs to be beautified not ‘uglified.’”

Leland Iverson,, a Lido resident and longtime Newport Beach resident, voiced his support for an “upscale and destination hotel” that “would add more energy to revitalize the village that we all love so dearly.”

Councilmember Keith Curry said that while people are envisioning a luxury hotel, it may come down to a low-end hotel.

“We just need to know what the numbers are, and I don’t know what those are and the community needs to know, and I think that informs our decision going forward and how the RFP [request for proposal] is structured,” Curry said.

Curry also stated that the kind of housing being proposed needs to be clarified, whether it be apartments, high-end condos, lofts, or anything else.

Selich suggested starting the land-use process, examining the hotel and housing ideas and then beginning the request for quotation.

“Hopefully, at some point before we’re done with the land-use process, we’ll have an idea where we’re going so we can do an RFQ,” he said.

For the area to be economically successful, it needs both high-end residences and a boutique hotel, said Hill.

Hill said a hotel in the conceptual master plan is an “extremely valuable sparkplug” for the area and brings a certain type of visitor that is needed for the village, but that it should be a waterfront property, not at the landlocked City Hall site.

Selich agreed that the hotel would be better at a waterfront location.

“This location is a second-rate site for a hotel,” Selich said. “We need absolutely the best site for a hotel. This is not the best site.”

The economic vitality does not currently support a hotel in the area, Hill said, so there needs to be more homes (residents) to support it.

“We have had some professional hotel developers contact some of us and tell us that a hotel won’t work on this site, it won’t work economically, for several different reasons. So these weren‘t things that magically came out of the air, these were elements that were presented by professionals” he told the audience and fellow council members.

Hill compared the possible future apartment complex in Lido to the Colony rental complex near Fashion Island.

Hill’s remarks didn’t sit too well with everyone in the crowd, though, drawing a few shouts and remarks.

After the council decision, Brant-Zawadzki wrote a letter to council members and city staff with his thoughts on the meeting.

“Apartments will not be the needed catalyst for revitalization,” he wrote.

“Proper use of the City Hall site would be an entity that elevates ‘market rate,’ thus maximizing revenues for the city, rather than something at the mercy of a deteriorating ‘market rate.’  Whether that proper use is a hotel, an attractive condo development with views from the upper floors, or something else, could be decided by an unbiased, RFP process, one that is not viewed as self-serving. Do not spend money on a pre-baked economic analysis,“ Brant-Zawadzki wrote. “Let’s not ‘rush’ to the wrong answer, one with more unintended consequences.”

City Manager Dave Kiff said the city staff can get the ball rolling on the RFQs and land-use process, as well as hiring a consultant for the study, without coming back to council for approval.

Information may be available as soon as the July 24 council meeting, he added.

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