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ON THE WATERFRONT

Harbor Club Sets Course for Social Events, Not Yachts

June 09, 1990|SHEARLEAN DUKE | Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Orange County has a new marina. Or is it a restaurant? Or yacht club?

Actually, the Harbor Club, a swanky waterfront creation in Newport Beach, is none of the above, and at the same time it is all three.

Technically speaking, the former Tokai bank building, which houses the club, is not new, just refurbished. The same is true of the 70-slip marina out front. What is new is the concept behind the private club.

"We are a social club, oriented toward the bay and the water," says Dick Stevens, Harbor Club president. "The club was my idea of providing a different type of yacht club."

Yet Stevens hastens to add that the Harbor Club is not a real yacht club. "The difference between us and the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and other yacht clubs is that they are strictly yachting oriented. The social side is an adjunct to that. Our primary goal is tohave a nice place on the water where people can feel at home. Some may be interested in boating and some may not. Yacht clubs, by their very nature, are committed to boating."

Yacht clubs are also nonprofit and the Harbor Club is run for profit.

The Harbor Club actually is more like the Balboa Bay Club, another for-profit, private waterfront club that is not a yacht club. Comparisons between the two clubs are inevitable--Stevens is former co-owner of the Balboa Bay Club, where he also served as president and general manager.

Still, he insists that the Harbor Club is not a clone of the 42-year-old Bay Club, an exclusive hangout for celebrities, politicians and corporate leaders. "The Bay Club is very successful," Stevens says, "but there is a striking difference. They rent hotel rooms. We do not. They actively promote outside, non-member business meetings. We do not."

Since the Harbor Club opened six months ago, it has attracted 850 members, most of them from Orange County. "We have all ages, all professions, single and married," he said. Stevens points out that the club was designed to be affordable. When it first opened, you could join for only $500. Now it costs $1,000 (initiation fee is $500 and yearly dues are $500; there is no monthly minimum.)

The club itself is Japanese-owned and occupies three stories of the former Tokai building at 3333 W. Coast Highway in Newport Beach. The project was designed by architect Bill Ficker, 1970 America's Cup winner, whose firm has also worked on the Queen Mary, the Balboa Bay Club and the Marina City Club in Marina Del Rey. Ficker, also a Harbor Club member, is commodore in charge of yachting.

Amenities at the new club include a fitness center, restaurant, lounge, outdoor patio, meeting rooms and private rooms, complete with telephones, fax machines and computers so that members can stay in touch with the office.

Although the club is private and open only to members, some of its services, including slips in its marina, will be open to the public, according to Stevens. "We are creating a lot more transient guest slips," he says. "We call ourselves a resort for boats. People with boats like to come to Newport Beach, but when they get here it is difficult for them to find a place to tie up. So we are developing a resort for boats where you can call us, make a reservation and can come down and bring your boat. You do not have to be a member."

Nor do you have to be a member to rent one of the club's six boats. You'll just have to pay a slightly higher rate, according to Joe Cordero, marina director. The club fleet consists of four small electric bay boats for harbor cruising and two yachts, one for fishing and one for ocean cruising. Rates range from a low of $60 an hour for a bay boat to $1,200 a day for a full day at sea in a 55-foot yacht.

The club is the only place in Newport Beach where you can rent an electric bay boat, according to Cordero, and business has been brisk. "It is something new we thought we'd try, and we think it will be real successful," he says. "These boats are perfect for cruising the harbor."

As the club grows, Stevens says the boating fleet will grow with it. And so will boating-oriented events at the club that is not a yacht club. One of the first big yachting events to be sponsored by the organization is the Japan- United States Goodwill Regatta, held for the first time last November, a few weeks before the club officially opened. The regatta pits the top collegiate sailors from the West Coast against the top collegiate sailors from Japan and is coordinated by Orange Coast College.

Although Stevens says the club may become involved in other regattas, he is quick to add that social events will far outnumber yachting events. "We are planning a tremendous array of things for our members," he says. "Shopping trips to Hong Kong, safaris to Africa, trips to the theater, fishing trips to Canada and camping trips for the entire family. The club theme is fun."

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