Residents Hear Hotel Proposals for Old City Hall Site

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Parking and traffic were the chief concerns emanating from a group of about 40 residents gathered Wednesday night in the former city council chambers at 3300 Newport Blvd. to hear presentations from the two entities proposing to build hotels on the site of the old city hall.

Members of the West Newport Beach Association were in the audience for the presentations by RD Olson Development and Sonnenblick Development LLC. Each presentation lasted about an hour each, and both teams fielded questions from the crowd after their respective presentations.

Bob Olson, president and CEO of RD Olson Development and a Newport Beach resident, spoke about his 130-room boutique hotel.

Also speaking for the Olson project were Gregory Villegas, from WATG and Wimberly Interiors, and Matt Walker, with Destination Hotels and Resorts.

Robert Sonnenblick, president of Sonnenblick Development, had a previous engagement at a convention in Las Vegas, so his development partner David Rose spoke about their hotel which includes 20 town homes, 12 villas, and multiple guest rooms.

Also speaking for the Sonnenblick project was Newport native, Jill Dufour Kanzler of Kanzler Public Affairs.

The Olson project is called the Lido House Hotel. The estimated total project cost is $43 million, Olson said.

The facility would include a restaurant, spa, fitness center, bay to beach park, expanded parking, ballroom and meeting room, rooftop lounge and viewing deck.

The project from Sonnenblick will be an Auberge resort. The estimated cost for the project is approximately $70 million, Sonnenblick said previously.

It would include public courtyards, two restaurants, rooftop bar, lounge and event area, health spa, several water features, meeting space, and 210 below grade parking spaces.

Each team spoke about their reputations, partners and teams working on the project, as well as projected revenue and parking issues.

The Olson team was the first to present at the West Newport Beach Association meeting.
The Olson team was the first to present at the West Newport Beach Association meeting. (left to right) Gregory Villegas, from WATG and Wimberly Interiors, Bob Olson, from RD Olson Development, and Matt Walker, with Destination Hotels and Resorts, speak to the crowd about their hotel project at Wednesday night’s West Newport Beach Association meeting in old council chambers, where guests listened to presentations for the hotel proposals for the old city hall site.

Both projects will be four-star hotels. The land will still be owned by the city and will be a 99-year lease.

The presenters also talked about the economic benefits of each, with Olson projecting about $400 million direct and indirect spending over a 10 year period, and the Sonnenblick project proposing $682 million of direct and indirect spending over 10 years.

West Newport residents Bill and Laurie McCarthy attended the meeting and were interested in what both had to say.

“Both were interesting, passionate and quite different,” Bill McCarthy said, which is good, they both agreed, to see different possibilities for the site.

“I haven’t really made up my mind as to which would be better,” Laurie McCarthy added.

Bill McCarthy was leaning toward the Sonnenblick project, he said, because he liked the plan and design, the underground parking, and the idea of queuing vehicles so they are off the main street as they enter the hotel and wait for the valet.

“(Parking) is always such a huge problem,” Laurie McCarthy added.

Other residents also asked about parking. Olson explained that they will have a parking study done to make sure they can provide adequate on-site parking with the hotel at full capacity on a busy weekend. The valet service will make the most efficient use of the space, he added.

“Going underground opens up a can of worms,” he said.

Sonnenblick’s company and their general contractor, C.W. Driver (who also built the new civic center in Newport Beach), are very comfortable with their ability to build one level of below-grade parking on this site, he previously wrote in an email.

Olson spoke about the efficiency of his project’s design and the feasibility of it, and local endorsements, which he said are very important because he wants the hotel to represent the community. The two large ficus trees on the property will be saved.

He also announced they have changed the small retail building on the corner of Newport Boulevard and 32nd Street to include a coffee shop and bakery.

For the Sonnenblick project, Rose emphasized that the visuals in the presentations are conceptual plans only, and if selected to build the hotel, his company would solicit input from the community for 90 days after being chosen.

Rose also mentioned that the hotel expects to host many weddings. Auberge gets about 20 percent of their bottom line from weddings, he explained.

An audience member asked how all the weddings will affect traffic turning into the hotel. Rose answered that they will be able to queue up to 12 vehicles on the hotel property as valets park them underground.

Rose also said their landscape architect, ima Design, who has been used by the city, said the ficus trees are not worth saving. They will instead plant other trees throughout the facility and will build a special water feature as a “bicentennial” element, Rose explained. There is another possible layout option that would keep the trees.

A couple of audience members asked about the fire station next to the old city hall, and were told the fire station would stay in place in both projects. If the station was moved on the other side of the bridge, the response time would suffer, Olson explained.

Both the McCarthy’s agreed that a hotel would help revitalize the area. It may also give the current property owners of surrounding businesses reason to re-evaluate the condition of their own properties and possibly look into upgrading, as Olson pointed out in his presentation.

A hotel will “raise the bar” for nearby retail shops, Olson said during the Q & A period.

A nearby shopping center that was recently remodeled has made a difference and improved the area, Laurie McCarthy said, so a hotel could really have a positive impact.

“This used to be a high-end area in Newport,” Bill McCarthy said. “It’s been dormant for years.”

There is a lot of potential in that area, he added.

“We’re optimistic that something wonderful is going to happen here,” Bill McCarthy said. “We’re just not sure which one (it will be).”

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