Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times
The Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board met for the first time since January to discuss the latest updates on the harbor’s progress toward revitalization and how the novel coronavirus pandemic is impacting the initial timeline.
The virtual Zoom meeting, which was held privately and later made available to the public, began with Bryon Ward, of Burnham Ward Properties, dispelling rumors on how the pandemic may be impacting Dana Point Harbor Partners.
“We have all been very busy dealing with an unprecedented situation,” said Ward. “It’s not so often we have a complete cessation of business caused by a government intervention. It’s something new and different to all of us, in the business community and the development community. The good news is, we were very strong going into it. I’m hopeful we will be strong coming out of it.”
Conserving Commercial Core Amid COVID-19
In terms of revitalization, Ward is overseeing the development of the retail experience and landside activities in the harbor with Scott Burnham through Burnham Ward Properties. Ralph Grippo and Joe Ueberroth will oversee the marina project under the auspices of Bellwether Financial, while R.D. Olsen will develop the Marina Inn Hotel.
Ward also highlighted the harbor as an ideal location, under the circumstances, for visitors to enjoy.
“The good news for Dana Point Harbor is that what everyone wants in a COVID and post-COVID world is sort of what we have,” Ward said. “We’ve got lots of outdoor spaces, we’ve got lots of patio (area), either existing or that we’ve created.”
Some businesses are even reporting higher sales compared to this time last year.
“It’s a testament to our team and our tenants rising to the occasion . . . being creative and nimble. I couldn’t’ be prouder of our tenants,” Ward said. “What we don’t want is any rumors going on out there, because that’s not healthy to what we’re trying to do as a group and certainly as a community. Our company couldn’t be stronger right now. (Unlike) many of our competitors, we are not defaulting on any of our loans. Our portfolio is actually virtually the same as far as occupancy. Our tenants are current. We’re hearing from our lenders we are doing better than most.”
Marina Inn Fares Fairly Well During Pandemic
Olsen reported during the meeting that the Marina Inn Hotel has been performing better since acquiring it.
“Then when coronavirus hit, we saw initial downturn in first 60 days or so,” Olsen said. “People are looking for a place to go; there really aren’t a lot of options right now. We sold out last Saturday night . . . the hotel is profitable. We are, frankly, pleased with what we’re seeing.”
The Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Plan will allow for the future replacement of the existing Marina Inn with a new lower-cost facility, as well as the construction of another new market-rate hotel. The proposal plans for both hotels to be located closer to the waterfront than the existing hotel, in order to promote a stronger pedestrian connection to the anticipated Pedestrian Promenade and Festival Plaza.
One hotel will be lower-cost, overnight visitor accommodations of no fewer than 136 rooms, plus additional lower-cost overnight accommodations or amenities that may be required. The lower-cost hotel will replace at minimum the 136 rooms of the existing Marina Inn.
The lower-cost overnight visitor accommodations are planned to provide additional guest amenities, including an expanded lobby area with guest services, a communal kitchen, ground-floor beverage service and seating, upper-floor beverage and food services and seating, a fitness center, retail space, a swimming pool, lockers and laundry.
The second hotel will be market-rate and shall provide up to 130 rooms; up to 8,275 square feet of restaurant and kitchen space; up to 6,000 square feet of special function space and meeting rooms with a banquet kitchen; 600 square feet of ancillary retail space; and a 1,700 square-foot fitness center and other outdoor activity facilities. Within the hotel structure, boater service facilities of not less than 6,800 square feet will be provided.
The increased size of the restaurant is offset by the same amount being reduced from boater facilities and special functions, so there are no net changes.
Dana Point City Council unanimously approved the hotels development plan on June 16 and the plan will now be submitted to the California Coastal Commission.
Revitalizing the Marina
As for the marina side of development, the partners say the plan is to move ahead full-steam.
“In the beginning of March, we did not know what was going to happen; there was a lot of panic,” Ueberroth said. “What we realized in the marina business is that coronavirus has been a huge boon to boating. I think you’re going to see huge boat sales happened in the second quarter. Although it’s been weird times, the harbor has been extremely active.”
Ueberroth stated he had believed the marina would be further along by now with the CCC after submitting plans in August 2019.
“We are working with them, but it’s delayed versus where we thought it would be,” Ueberroth said. “We’ll go through a hearing that will probably be virtual.”
Ueberroth predicts that the No. 1 issue to be addressed with CCC is “social justice.” The harbor could be expected to provide opportunities for non-boaters or “low-income constituents” to enjoy the harbor.
“I think we’re going to figure out some great programs to add to the harbor,” Ueberroth said. “We’ll look to have a hearing sometime in 2021.”
Political Flags in the Harbor
After a slew of complaints directed to County of Orange officials, to Dana Point Harbor leadership and to the Dana Point Times in the form of letters to the editor, Ralph Grippo, principal of Bellwether Financial, took the opportunity to address the harbor’s policy on flying political flags.
“We allow flags to fly; boats have flags,” Grippo said. “As long as it’s not inappropriate, obscene, contains profanity or is encouraging violence, we allow flags. We are not discouraging political flags as long as it is not obscene. We are not picking sides here.”
What Lies Ahead for the Harbor
“We are moving full-steam into this entitlement process (for the marina),” Ueberroth said. “We’d love to be under construction at the end of next year. There really aren’t any changes.”
A new parking structure was initially planned to see construction begin in April/May. Now work is anticipated to begin during the fourth quarter of this year.
James Lenthall currently serves as president of the Dana Point Boaters Association and chair of the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board and as a director on the board of Dana Point Yacht Club.
“What’s pleasing, surprising and a little scary is once you turn off the news, leave your home and go down to the marina, there is no telling there is a coronavirus going on,” said Lenthall. “That’s partly frightening because there is a lot of gathering; it’s been mitigated, but everyone seems to be having a good ol’ time.”