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Museum Is Offered A Challenge Newport Harbor Institution Gets Dibs On Prime Site

February 28, 1987|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

The Newport Harbor Art Museum hopes to build a new expanded museum on an Irvine Co.-owned site next to Coast Highway and MacArthur Boulevard, museum and company officials announced Friday.

John Martin Shea, Newport Harbor's board chairman, also announced that the museum is embarking on a drive to raise $10.5 million--the value of the 10-acre vacant site in Newport Center--by the end of the year.

The museum will assume title to the site when it has raised "that amount in building gifts and pledges," Shea said in a phone interview. Studies on the size, design and actual cost are still being completed. The estimated cost is between $30 million and $40 million, he added.

"The Irvine Co.'s challenge offer is exceptionally generous. That site is superior to our present site--allowing us more room to expand and far greater visibility," Shea said. "His (Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L. Bren's) offer came as a surprise. Up to 10 days ago, we had been discussing other options, but not that site."

The proposed expanded new museum will provide not only more galleries but also larger office, storage, auditorium, sculpture garden, restaurant and education facilities, said Kevin Consey, the museum's director. Once the building is constructed, the museum's present 23,000-square-foot structure will be sold, Consey said. The present structure, also in Newport Center, was built in 1977 on a two-acre site donated by the Irvine Co.

Friday's announcement means that the museum board of trustees--which approved the new expansion plan Thursday night--has abandoned a proposed expansion on a five-acre site next to its present building, which is next to offices and a city library branch and away from major roadways.

Under that plan announced last summer, the museum envisioned constructing a 75,000-square-foot structure, estimated to cost between $20 million and $30 million. In that proposal, the present structure would have been turned over to the city for public library use.

But the 1986 proposal was thrown in limbo when the Irvine Co.'s sweeping plan for a shopping mall, office and housing expansions at Newport Center was decisively rejected Nov. 25 by voters in a citywide referendum.

Although opponents of the overall Irvine Co. plan said they had no objections to the museum's own development, Newport Harbor's 75,000-square-foot proposal was thrown in doubt because it was an integral part of the defeated plan, museum officials said after the referendum.

On Friday, however, museum officials said the proposed new 10-acre expansion was not tied to any Newport Center plan the company might eventually resubmit to the City Council. (Before offering the site to the museum, the Irvine Co. had planned the site for residential and retail uses.) Shea said the museum would independently seek City Council approval for the latest museum proposal.

"We can't say when we will be submitting our new plans (to the city) because we now have to restart our design and other feasibility studies," Shea said. Also, he said, there is no discussion yet on a proposed construction start. (In the 1986 plan, officials talked then of a 1988 construction start.)

Allan Beek, spokesman for Gridlock, the citizens' coalition opposing the Irvine Co.'s overall 1986 plan, said Friday that his group does not "have any problems" with the museum's Coast Highway proposal. "We have always considered anything the museum did as totally separate from the office and retail development that was at the heart of the company's plan," said Beek in a phone interview.

Friday's announcement also meant the museum is no longer considering sites outside of Newport Center. A year ago, before it had settled on staying in Newport Center, the museum said it was considering moves to "high visibility" sites closer to freeways.

One suggested locale was an Irvine Co.-owned site near the San Diego Freeway and Jamboree Road in Irvine. According to Consey, discussions were also held on seeking a locale in the C.J. Segerstrom & Sons' South Coast Plaza sector in Costa Mesa.

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