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Newport Beach's big dreams for City Hall

Designs include council chambers, parking, an administration building, a tower and tide pools.

October 04, 2008|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

The nation's economy might be crumbling, and the housing market may be in crisis, but Newport Beach is still dreaming big.

The wealthy beach town's aging City Hall, a conglomeration of overstuffed buildings wedged next to a supermarket, is getting a makeover. Five designs for a new civic center offer flamboyant and wildly divergent visions for the symbolic heart of Orange County affluence.

What could be more Newport Beach than an illuminated, sail-shaped roof and an upscale wine bar?

The proposals, winnowed from dozens of applicants, had to incorporate a 150-seat council chamber with a roughly 75,000-square-foot city administration building, 350 parking spaces and a natural-looking park -- all without spoiling ocean views.

The site is a narrow, 19-acre parcel between MacArthur Boulevard and Avocado Avenue next to the central library and near the Fashion Island mall.

The new complex, which city leaders hope will be eye-catching yet timeless, should be "something that the citizens would be proud of," said Larry Tucker, the nonvoting chairman of the city's five-member architecture committee.

And it must, he said, use taxpayer money wisely. (Using city projections of $450 per square foot, the facility could cost $60 million or more.)

The five designs include landscaped rooftops, restored wetlands, networks of boardwalks, green building features, terraces, tide pools, amphitheaters, sculpture, LED lanterns and a tower that's lighted when city officials meet.

The proposals were a mixed bag, said Assistant City Manager Sharon Wood, whose main goal is for the new City Hall to be easy for residents to use. The contemporary designs, unveiled in recent public meetings, all have unique features that "could become iconic," she said.

But the illuminated sail atop the council chamber probably wouldn't thrill neighbors, Tucker said.

The committee hopes to rank the designs by month's end and forward the list to the City Council.

As for the wine bar and restaurant, proposed as an after-hours watering hole and revenue source across the park from City Hall?

That, Tucker said, probably won't make the cut.

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susannah.rosenblatt@ latimes.com

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