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Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Project Finally Moving Forward

The 20-year effort to renovate the Dana Point Harbor passed an important milestone yesterday when Orange County Supervisors voted unanimously in support of a deal that partners the county government with a group of private companies.

The proposal is to lease the harbor for 66 years into the future to a group called Dana Point Harbor Partners, LLC. Projects like this are referred to as a “P3” (public-private partnership).

Formally, yesterday’s vote only granted the companies an option for 90 to 120 days in exchange for fees of $20,000 or $30,000; however, the decision included a full 245-page document that includes almost all the terms negotiated between the county and the new partners.

The unanimous support from all five county supervisors is a strong signal that this project will move forward as described.

Dana Point Harbor photo

Who Are the Dana Point Harbor Partners

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett called the three partners “best-in-class.” She described Burnham-Ward Properties as a best-in-class partner for the commercial core, Bellweather Financial Group as a best-in-class partner for the water-side improvements, and R.D. Olson Real Estate Group as a best-in-class partner for the hotels.

The group named Dana Point Harbor Partners, LLC, is presumably composed of these entities:

Burnham-Ward Properties, LLC
1100 Newport Center Drive, Suite 200
Newport Beach, California 92660

Bellwether Financial Group, Inc.
450 Newport Center Drive, Suite 590
Newport Beach, California 92660

Olson Real Estate Group, Inc.
c/o R.D. Olson Development
520 Newport Center Drive, Suite 600
Newport Beach, California 92660

Yesterday’s vote by county supervisors included two specific agreements:

  1. Ground Lease Agreement with Dana Point Harbor Partners, LLC.
  2. Drystack Lease Agreement with Dana Point Harbor Partners Drystack, LLC.

What is the Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Plan

At the moment, the Dana Point Harbor revitalization plan includes a large-scale expansion of parking; building a new dry-stack boat barn; creating new buildings to house businesses and restaurants (referred to as the “commercial core”); renovating slips and docks (referred to as the “water-side” or “marina” renovations); and the construction of at least one hotel (probably two).

Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Rendering by RD Olson
Image from R.D. Olson Development

When Will the Work Happen

Everyone who has been involved with the 20-year effort to renovate the Dana Point Harbor is understandably shell-shocked by any mention of a timeline. As Jim Miller of Coffee Importers and the Dana Point Harbor Merchants Association said at yesterday’s supervisors’ meeting:

“Since 1998, I’ve been telling my customers: Construction will begin in the next five years, and we’ll see a new harbor soon.”

Most of the stakeholders in the project will naturally be motivated to complete all aspects of the project at a reasonable pace. Getting down to brass tacks about timing, the agreement approved reads in part:

(a) with respect to the Hotel, March 1, 2023 for the “affordable” hotel, and, if built, March 3, 2025 for the “boutique” hotel, (b) with respect to the Commercial Core, January 1, 2021, and (c) with respect to the Marina, January 1, 2022.

(a) with respect to the Hotel, July 30, 2027 for the “affordable” hotel, and, if built, July 30, 2027 for the “boutique” hotel, (b) with respect to the Commercial Core, December 31, 2024, and (c) with respect to the Marina, December 31, 2027.

What Happens Next

By the terms of yesterday’s agreement, the Dana Point Harbor Partners group will have 90 to 120 days to finish negotiating any outstanding deal terms within the agreements.

Budget Questions

There has been some criticism of the financial projections associated with this plan, in part questioning whether the whole of Orange County should pay for a harbor located only in Dana Point, and in part related to the runaway, massive cost of operating the Harbor Patrol.

Supervisors responded that the Dana Point Harbor, like the John Wayne Airport, is a large public asset servicing the whole of Orange County and not limited to any single district.

Several supervisors acknowledged that questions about funding the Harbor Patrol in the long term are “legitimate” and amount to nearly $1 billion of the noted $1.2B potential shortfall.

“82% of the shortfall is Harbor Patrol. I think it’s important to renew the discussion [of the Harbor Patrol costs] especially in light of this agreement today because it highlights the big hole [high cost] that has nothing to do with this project.”
— Todd Spitzer, Orange County Supervisor

Supervisor Bartlett added that the Dana Point Harbor Patrol is “trained at the homeland security level. You don’t need a homeland security-level person necessarily telling someone to put their life vest on.” The topic of the Harbor Patrol is currently being evaluated by Orange County CEO Frank Kim and is likely to come before the supervisors again for discussion.

“I understand that we’ve got to separate the two with regard to Harbor Patrol and the P3 partner…. We will be looking at Harbor Patrol. Discussions will be continuing. The CEO and I have been engaged in this for about two years.”
— Lisa Bartlett, Orange County Supervisor

Involving Dana Point Harbor Users and Merchants

Requests from the public to include local boaters and merchants in the finalization of the agreements seemed to be well received by supervisors, with Lisa Bartlett specifically asking the county staff to circulate the option agreement among stakeholders like Dana Point Harbor Merchants Association, and the Dana Point Harbor Advisory Board.

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About the Author

Ross Teasley

A long-time Dana Pointer, technologist and publisher, I have been involved in several initiatives around Dana Point over the years ranging from environmental issues to civic planning. Fueled by coffee.

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