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Laguna Niguel’s City Center, Reimagined

Burnham Ward Properties is crafting its legacy, one local community at a time.

The Newport Beach-based developer, which has built a string of well-received retail properties in Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Long Beach over the past decade, has another $300 million or more of planned area projects in the works, the most of any area retail developer.

Forget big-box stores or traditional malls. The upscale firm’s pipeline includes “long-term legacy projects,” said Bryon Ward, who partnered with Scott Burnham in 2004 to create a development affiliate of Newport Beach real estate investor Burnham USA Equities.

“We pride ourselves on going above and beyond to create projects that bring communities together,” Ward said.

“We think about a community’s history before we think about design.”

It’s what they did with their acclaimed LBX, or Long Beach Exchange, a former industrial site next to Long Beach Airport that opened last year as a 266,000-square-foot food hall and retail center; and Costa Mesa’s SOCO and the OC Mix, a 300,000-square-foot shopping center along the San Diego (405) Freeway that the group bought in 2009 and completely overhauled.

It’s also how they’re approaching their part of the closely watched $300 million Dana Point Harbor revitalization plan, as well as their newest endeavor: a city center in Laguna Niguel.

Development Team Switch

The proposal would see the development of a 200,000-square-foot mixed-use complex on a county-owned 24-acre site adjacent to Laguna Niguel City Hall, at Crown Valley Parkway and Alicia Parkway.

It’s the second time the county has explored a public-private partnership in hopes to create a proper downtown for Laguna Niguel, OC’s 16th-largest city with about 66,750 people.

In 2015, the city and county announced it would work with Shaheen Sadeghi, the founder of Costa Mesa’s LAB Holding LLC, for what was to be a $150 million development called the Agora Arts District. The plan, which was to include a food hall, didn’t move ahead and the partnership ended in 2017.

A new partnership, operating under the Laguna Niguel Town Center Partners LLC name, was announced in June. It has different ideas for much of the land than what Sadeghi proposed, though a food hall concept is still expected to be included.

Burnham Ward’s partner in the project is Irvine’s Sares Regis Group, an industrial and apartment developer. Sares Regis will handle the residential component at the Laguna Niguel site.

The project’s cost currently sits between $200 million and $220 million, and could break ground as soon as next year.

No Afterthoughts

Ward said the goal was to create a mixed-use complex that is “drastically needed by the community,” without skimping on the retail component.

“Too often retail is tacked on as an afterthought,” Ward said.

“Why would you make the most important ingredient an afterthought?”

The bulk of the commercial portion will be made up by dining and retail concepts, with about 90,000 square feet of office space, including a creative component that will be pitched to coworking companies.

The residential portion, built alongside the commercial phase, is expected to include 200 apartments and 75 townhomes with “resort-like amenities.”

This live-work-play community is hard to find in OC, according to Chris Payne, managing director and partner at Sares Regis.

“Residents will have the ability to walk to an exciting array of restaurants, shops and office without the need to get in a car, which is a unique experience in Orange County and a desirable lifestyle that does not exist in the current marketplace,” he said.

The project also proposes a new County of Orange library, a rebuild of the center’s nearly 50-year-old library.

Early returns suggest the new group’s plan has community support. Laguna Niguel Mayor John Mark Jennings said, “We have the right partners on board to turn this property into a best-in-class city center not just for locals, but all of South Orange County.”

Farm to Farmers Market

When starting the planning of a new project, Burnham Ward starts with examining the area’s history.

The company pulled from Laguna Niguel’s agrarian past to come up with a design theme “that merges modern country and coastal style,” according to Ward.

“Think country markets, Napa style,” Ward said.

Emulating this involves a “commitment to open spaces, natural landscape and utilizing the natural topography of the land.”

So, the hilly site will remain hilly, buildings will be pedestrian friendly, and materials used include a mix of wood, stone and brick with metal roofing.

Tenants will complement the style: boutique shops and eateries will be preferred to chains.

“We are looking for independent operators that are the best at what they do,” Ward said, such as stores like a home goods and floral shop, and a boutique fitness component.

Keeping in line with Burnham Ward’s other projects, “local chef-driven food” concepts are a primary focus.

The proposal includes a 7,500-square-foot restaurant and a 20,400-square-foot food hall that will be akin to the 17,000-square-foot Hangar component of LBX.


The partnership is finalizing designs for the project and expects to receive full entitlements by the beginning of next year.

“We always spend a lot of time on the design portion,” Ward said, adding that construction should take two to three years, and could begin at the end of next year, or early 2021.

Redesigning Dana Point

Harbor Team Rides Wave of Surf History

Burnham Ward Properties’ inspiration for its commercial portion of the Dana Point Harbor revamp was perhaps more obvious than the one for Laguna Niguel.

“It’s a historical hotbed for the surf industry,” Bryon Ward told the Business Journal from the developer’s new satellite office overlooking the harbor.

The office hints at the Newport Beach-based firm’s plans for the commercial core of the new marina. The small, second-story space is bright and filled with vintage photography of the area, mostly of the iconic sport that was born there.

“We have a lot of inspiration to work with,” Ward said.

Burnham Ward is one-third of Dana Point Harbor Partners, a joint venture tapped to revamp the area in a $330 million investment that will add new stores, restaurants, hotels, and then some.

Burnham Ward will lead the retail and restaurant portion; Bob Olson’s Newport Beach-based R.D. Olson Development is adding two new hotels; and Joe Ueberroth’s Bellwether Financial Group, also based in Newport Beach, will develop the waterside.

“We are approaching the project with our three pillars: stewardship, education and activity,” Ward said.

The first is about “going above and beyond what we need to do,” and building a space for longtime residents and visitors alike.

Education can be covered through Burnham Ward’s plans to build a surf museum at the harbor; and activity is about bringing in solid retailers and restaurants to generate buzz.

“We are looking to partner with industry leaders that want to establish a footprint here,” such as surfing brands, Ward said.

The company was the first of the three harbor partners to receive entitlements, though it’s still tinkering with its design.

It expects to break ground next summer.

Plans include renovating existing buildings and building new ones, though “companies will not have to close during construction.”

“We are working with [restaurants] to stay open, and help them reinvent themselves to fit with the new energy that will be coming in.”

The remaining commercial projects and marina work should begin shortly after Burnham Ward’s, likely in 2021, Ward said.

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