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A Vision of Culture for Costa Mesa

The city OKs plans for SoBeCa, an artsy, 39-acre district down the road from South Coast Plaza.

April 22, 2006|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

If entrepreneur Shaheen Sadeghi's vision for Costa Mesa is half as cool as his office, the city may be in luck.

Eclectic music is piped in by iPod. Super-sized chess pieces, funky wall sculptures and a hanging bubble chair decorate the pad. It's like being transported to SoHo, Tribeca or another artsy, metropolitan neighborhood -- which is exactly what Sadeghi has in mind for a 39-acre slice of Costa Mesa.

The city approved plans this month for the SoBeCa (South Bristol Entertainment and Cultural Arts) Urban Plan, which will house galleries, artist lofts, live-work studios and stores in a distinctive neighborhood just down the road from the polish of South Coast Plaza.

Sadeghi took his idea to the city, which approved the rezoning. He owns some of the land and will do some of the development.

It's the third stage of Sadeghi's plan to create a district that has the feel of New York City's artistic quarters. Already in place are the Lab and the Camp, two retail and entertainment centers he owns that cater to Gen X, Gen Y, Range Rover moms and other consumers with artistic and active lifestyles.

"We are not what 'The O.C.' makes us out to be," said Sadeghi, a former president of surf-wear maker Quiksilver and the mastermind behind SoBeCa. "It's not just this materialistic, California Riviera culture.... We're SoHo. We embrace music, fashion, art. I personally believe a lot of the culture is here. We are just giving them a place to congregate."

SoBeCa, then, would be unlike what most Orange County consumers are accustomed to. No cookie-cutter strip malls, Gap stores or Mediterranean-style villas with beige stucco and red Spanish tile.

SoBeCa, city officials say, will be "edgy." Steel and concrete. "Unique, different and exciting," said the city's senior planner, Claire Flynn.

At first blush, Costa Mesa is an unconventional place for Sadeghi to choose as the canvas for his vision. It lacks the sex appeal of Newport and Laguna. Youth and surf culture is based in Huntington Beach and San Clemente. It lacks the tourists that descend on Anaheim for conventions, Disneyland and baseball games.

But Costa Mesa, which boasts "the ultimate shopping resort" in South Coast Plaza, has embraced Sadeghi's desire to push the envelope. He transformed a military night-goggle factory into the Lab, a center that mixes restaurants with funky shops that sell hard-to-find sneakers and designer T-shirts.

Sadeghi followed with the Camp, a retail village on the other side of Bristol where tenants teach yoga, mountain biking, scuba diving and rock climbing. Both places feature art shows and poetry readings. At the Camp, folk singers and musicians occasionally play around a campfire.

The city formed a committee to study and expand on Sadeghi's vision. After three years of planning, the city approved the construction of 455 dwelling units over two decades. Most will be built above or behind shops -- creating a place where people both live and work.

Such mixed-use developments are cropping up throughout Southern California. Anaheim's Platinum Triangle near Angel Stadium will include 9,500 condos and lofts above restaurants, offices and stores. Colorado Street in Old Town Pasadena mixes residential, shopping and dining.

"People are looking for social activity," said Chris Bennett, Sadeghi's director of development. "We want to create the public place of gathering, the town square. In suburban Orange County, we don't have those places. Let's build that first. Then around that thing, we'll build our project."

The Lab, for example, surrounds a giant living room of sorts, carved through the middle of the buildings. There are benches, a stage and couches, where people lounge from morning until late at night.

"We're fighting against formulas that have no imagination or energy," Bennett said. This is why there will be no Banana Republic or Happy Nails or Starbucks in SoBeCa -- at least, if Sadeghi has any say.

Real estate developer Peter Koetting, vice chairman of the city's SoBeCa committee, said developers had already come knocking. Others are busy buying up property in the area.

"Costa Mesa is absolutely ready for a mixed-use development neighborhood like this, especially with this location, south of the major Bristol Street activity up by South Coast Plaza and the theater district," Koetting said. "It's a unique pocket of land with a potential for higher and better use. I think people are going to be excited about it."

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