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O.C. Museum of Art Studying Move to Costa Mesa

Negotiations * Talks become serious about a new, bigger venue across from the Performing Arts Center, but 'it's not a done deal,' says director.

July 21, 2001|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After years of exploring expansion options, the Orange County Museum of Art is a step closer to moving from Newport Beach to a much larger facility at the county's arts hub in Costa Mesa.

The move would establish a cultural triumvirate bordering a single plaza: the museum, the Orange County Performing Arts Center and South Coast Repertory. The museum would expand from 40,000 to a 140,000 square feet, museum officials said.

OCMA board members voted June 28 to explore the move and unveiled preliminary conceptual drawings to officials of the center. But the museum was not the first to make an announcement. The center's chairman, Roger T. Kirwan, heralded the news Thursday during OCPAC's annual members meeting.

Property donated for expanding the center and SCR also includes space for an art museum. "The Orange County Museum of Art wants to be that museum," Kirwan said. "It starts with the museum saying, 'Yes, we want to do it.' It's the beginning stage where we can mutually organize committees to start planning."

Although Kirwan sounded definitive, he later apologized for speaking about the plan before there is a formal agreement.

"I might have stepped a bit on a few toes and jumped the gun," Kirwan said, "but they know my heart is in the right place, and I want to help them in any way I can."

Museum director Naomi Vine said the museum had not planned to publicly announce the vote. "It's not a done deal. It's far from being a done deal. But it's something we're very excited about, and I hope it does work out."

Conceptual sketches show an enclosed arts center with Town Center Drive closed to traffic. The museum, the center's performing arts venues and South Coast Repertory would front the central plaza, which would tie together all buildings in the complex.

"It brings the museum into a pedestrian complex in a unique, synergistic setting," Kirwan said. "And hopefully all the arts will start taking advantage of our great Southern California weather and start doing some outdoor events."

The new site, however, has its share of problems, museum officials said, citing lack of off-street parking as a major concern. Plans also may require zoning changes.

"There's still so much work to do before we can make that kind of announcement," said Vine.The museum has neither conducted a feasibility study nor hired architects to draft the museum's formal expansion plans, estimated to cost $60 million, she said.

The two parties have held discussions since 1998. The talks came after an expansion attempt in the late '80s fizzled. The museum, then known as the Newport Harbor Art Museum, was offered a 101/2-acre lot by Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L. Bren, but the project was scrapped during the recession of the early '90s. Museum officials cited rising costs and problems with the design by architect Renzo Piano.

Museum officials say they are proceeding cautiously. "We haven't publicly announced anything, but we've signaled our intention," said OCMA board Chairman Darrel Anderson. "I imagine it being at least a 12-to 18-month project to work out feasibility issues. I don't want to get anyone too excited yet, because sometimes things don't work in spite of our best efforts.

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