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By Lillian Boyd
The California Coastal Commission has issued approval to Dana Point Harbor Partners to begin construction on the redevelopment of the marinas.
The $330 million redevelopment of Dana Point Harbor has taken a step forward with Bellwether Financial Group receiving the marina California Coastal Commission development permit, jump-starting the long-awaited harbor revitalization. Bellwether Financial Group is a regional developer, global marina builder and operator.
A partnership created to redevelop and operate the harbor, Dana Point Harbor Partners is comprised of Bellwether Financial Group, Burnham-Ward Properties and R.D. Olson Development. Under the public-private partnership, the developer will design, fund and build the improvements, then operate the harbor for the duration of the 66-year lease. Bellwether-owned entity Bellingham Marine will develop and build the marina, while sister company Bellport will oversee operations.
“In our continuing collaboration with Coastal Commission staff, we were notified today that Bellwether Financial (the marina developer under Dana Point Harbor Partners) satisfied the 15 special conditions that were required to be met before construction could commence,” according to the Dana Point Boaters Association statement on Feb. 24. “This means there are no more regulatory hurdles for DPHP to clear before proceeding.”
The massive, mixed-use project—which will include renovating an aging marina, as well as constructing new restaurants, shops and hotels—completely reimagines Dana Point’s 49-year-old harbor.
“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize this iconic Orange County asset and create a destination for generations to come,” said Joe Ueberroth, founder and president of Bellwether Financial Group, developer of the new harbor and chairman and CEO of Bellingham Marine, the builder as well as operator under his Bellport marina management company.
Ueberroth says he and his team worked closely with the California Coastal Commission to create a forward-thinking project that will set the bar high, benefiting the environment, the community and visitors from around the world. “As the result of carefully listening to the Coastal Commission and boating community, we received a unanimous vote of approval,” he said.
Ueberroth added that the collaboration was a balance of implementing input and adhering to policies.
“Many of the boaters wanted the new marina plan to adhere to the Local Coastal Plan,” Ueberroth said. “We had to make sure we had the appropriate amount of slips. It was a challenge to meet the (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations and meeting the demand for larger slips.”
In the future marina, the average slip size will be 32 feet. The current average slip size is 30 feet.
“When going through the plan, we went through a lot of configurations, explored access to different slips,” Ueberroth said. “The public meetings allowed for us to hear from different stakeholders, like boaters, commercial fishing groups, and others. Now, I’m pleased to say there’s a lot of diversity in the plan.”
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett commended Bellwether in expediting the approval process despite the coronavirus pandemic impeding regular conduct of government meetings and permitting processes.
“It is impressive how efficiently and effectively Bellwether was able to facilitate what would be a very complex Coastal Commission process,” she said. “The Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Plan is the result of more than 20 years of community collaboration, and we are thrilled to now have it underway.”
Ueberroth, however, still acknowledges the delays.
“It all went to Zoom,” Ueberroth said. “For us, even with the delays, it was a 13-month process, so we were really pleased with efficiency … we were really able to collaborate, and it took us only several months to satisfy all 28 special conditions; we were very pleased with the pace of the process.”
Ueberroth said Bellwether Financial has many years of experience in marina redevelopment, repositioning and operations. Embracing and planning for a variety of special conditions was critical to ensure approval from the Coastal Commission.
The plan includes protection of marine life, commitment to water quality and expanding public access. The dock system innovation will eliminate all treated wood and includes technology that removes all ferrous metals, ensuring longer dock life, while ridding the environment of those toxic materials.
“One of the things we’re very proud of is the new technology for the marina that solved some of those issues,” Ueberroth said. “Where some developers may not be as familiar with those issues the Coastal Commission is fighting … we understood the importance of eel grass, being receptive to protect sea lions, having concern with clean water, being mindful of chemicals.”
Distinct new plans for the marina include flip-flopping the parking and retail space, so retail, hotels and public parks will be on the waterfront. The public will now have access to the docks and newly created public areas expanding recreational opportunities.
“A core part, and one we are perhaps most excited and proud, is Environment Justice, an educational, sailing and water sport program for underserved youth in Orange County,” Ueberroth said.
With this in mind, Bellwether is partnering with community organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, OC Youth Sailing, Surfrider, and the YMCA to provide 1,000 youths with sailing, ocean education programs, whale watching, swimming lessons and a variety of water activities yearly.
“Dana Point is one of Orange County’s great assets. It’s mostly utilized by people from Dana Point, but as a county asset, how do we open it up to everyone in the county? How do we open it up to people who are disadvantaged?” Ueberroth said. “How special will it be for these young individuals who may have rarely experienced the coast to learn how to sail, swim, see a whale or simply discover more about the ocean and marine life? It will impact their lives.”
With the Coastal Commission’s green light, the next step is to finalize construction plans and pull various city and county permits, putting the partners in a position to potentially start construction by the end of this year.
Once the revitalization is complete in 2026, Ueberroth says the Dana Point Harbor—the largest single-owned marina on the West Coast—will “raise the bar for marinas and coastal developments of the future, with innovative dock technology, a thoughtful approach to public access, environmentally friendly initiatives and waterfront lifestyle amenities and services.”
Ueberroth says that the next step is working on permit drawings to submit to the county. Once those permits are obtained, the Harbor Partners will be just a couple months away from starting construction.
“We have a lot more certainty today than we did a few months ago,” Ueberroth said.