Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported information about funds used in the construction of the Dana Point Harbor’s revitalization. Revenue generated in the Dana Point Harbor would be used for revitalization construction.
As the eve of a new look for the Dana Point Harbor draws near, the principal members of the Dana Point Harbor Partners discussed details of the area’s $400 million revitalization project during a town hall on Tuesday, April 25.
In front of a standing-room crowd, Bryon Ward—the president of Burnham Ward Properties, a developer involved in the public-private revitalization plan—said construction of the three-story parking structure, the first phase of the project, is scheduled to start in January 2024.
“We’re doing everything we can to speed that up. We cannot start construction until we have all of our utility permits in place,” Ward said during the public forum that Orange County Fifth District Board Supervisor Katrina Foley hosted at the OC Sailing & Events Center.
“The harbor is over 50 years old. All the utility is old and in dire need of redesign and replacement,” Ward continued. We’ve been working very closely with all the utility providers in the harbor, including the South Coast Water District, to basically complete a tri-party agreement between us, the county, and the district.”
The permit process should be wrapped up in the next two to three months, according to Ward.
Additional phases of the project will include new waterfront buildings, a renovated boardwalk, two new hotels, and open space for people to walk and spend time—as well as for outdoor entertainment such as live music and events. There will also be public art installed.
“Sea-level rise actually forced us to increase the height of our building foundations, which is actually kind of nice, because now we have a wonderful view from the first floor, as well as the second floor,” Ward said.
The revitalization is expected to be finished by 2026.
Ward also discussed plans to negotiate new leases with harbor tenants.
“We’re not just quite ready to start negotiating new leases,” Ward said. “We’ve engaged in discussions with a number of (current tenants) already. They’ll have an opportunity to stay in the harbor. We will have new buildings and new floorplates and things that will obviously have to be considered for all the tenants, in terms of adequate sizing and business models going forward and that sort of thing.”
Foley said some small businesses may not have the capital to expand accordingly.
“They need to have sufficient notice when the building is going to get torn down, when there are going to be tenant improvements done,” Foley said.
Ward said Dana Point Harbor Partners is looking to offer more long-term leases instead of month-to-month agreements “so tenants can plan better.”
The crowd of attendees jeered at times during Ward’s remarks, including a response he gave to a question by Foley when he said locals would have the ability to weigh in about which restaurants and retail shops will be able to stay.
“We have economic models that we have to adhere to, in order to deliver what we said we were going to deliver,” Ward said. “We’ve got to achieve certain financial hurdles. Our tenants have done an amazing job, particularly through COVID, and they’re doing all the right things. They deserve an opportunity to stay in the harbor, but we can’t keep rents at their current level and be able to do what we want to do.”
Foley said while rent between tenants and an owner is a privately negotiated matter, community favorites should be given priority when it comes to staying.
County of Orange Chief Real Estate Officer Thomas “Mat” Miller said that even though there is a private entity operating the harbor, the area is still under a public lease and public oversight.
“You have a public supervisor who’s overseeing it, as well as the rest of the (county) staff. We do have a whole CEO real estate staff at the county that works with the partners,” Miller said. “Sometimes, they like us. Sometimes, they don’t.”
Boat slip fees and other money spent in the harbor, such as at restaurants, will be used for revitalization construction, according to the discussions between Foley and the Harbor Partners.