The revitalization of Dana Point Harbor has reached dry land.
Construction work kicked off last week for the commercial core of the nearly 50-year-old, county-owned harbor, marking the most visible sign of progress for one of South Orange County’s most notable real estate development projects in years, one whose cost has been estimated at over $300 million.
Dubbed the “heartbeat” of the harbor by its developers, commercial core work will include a new, 984-space parking structure, followed by nearly 120,000 square feet of redeveloped restaurants and retail space.
The project is headed by a trio of Newport Beach-based firms: Burnham Ward Properties, R.D. Olson Development and Bellwether Financial Group, which are operating together under a single ownership structure, named Dana Point Harbor Partners.
The group recently secured nearly $60 million in financing from Citizens Business Bank for the forthcoming batch of work at the project.
The partnership has been working on their plans since 2017, when the firms were selected to act as master developers for the redevelopment of the harbor.
The three local companies heading the development are “the very best in their respective fields,” said Lisa Bartlett, a former mayor of Dana Point and county supervisor who has watched the proposed revitalization project take shape over several decades.
What’s more, the structure of the public-private partnership means that “no taxpayer dollars are being spent” on the project, Bartlett said.
It’s taken some time for plans to make it from concept to the construction phase; officials last week noted that there’s been talk of redeveloping the harbor for nearly 30 years.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Bryon Ward, president and partner of Burnham Ward Properties, whose firm is heading the commercial core project for the partnership.
In coastal zones such as Dana Point, “it’s complicated,” given the numerous regulatory groups and stakeholders involved. Having a trio of partners also added to the complexity, Ward said.
“The old adage ‘it takes a village’ is never more appropriate” for this project, added BWP Chief Executive Scott Burnham.
“We’ve faced lots of challenges—COVID as well as the capital market meltdown—which have obviously caused delays.”
That said, “great things take time,” Burnham told the Business Journal.
There’s already been progress on the waterside, in terms of harbor redevelopment.
Bellwether, which is responsible for the marina’s renovation, has replaced about 580 of the harbor’s old docks with new, concrete floating docks set to last 75 years. The company has about 150 remaining docks to convert.
Another part of the harbor’s redevelopment will be the construction of a pair of hotels, overseen by R.D. Olson, the West Coast’s most active hotel developer over the past decade.
The partnership said last week they’re aiming to get Coastal Commission approvals for the two hotel projects in the next year.
In addition to the trio of local developers heading the project, numerous other OC-based firms are involved.
That includes Santa Ana-based Tait & Associates, a civil engineering, environmental and architectural firm led by Tom Tait, the former mayor of Anaheim who served from 2010 to 2018.
Irvine’s SMS Architects is working with Burnham Ward for the design of the commercial core portion of the project.
Irvine-based Bomel Construction is building a three-level parking garage that’s part of the first phase of commerical core construction. The nearly 1,000-stall structure will include 93 boater-dedicated spaces and amenities such as showers, changing rooms, service carts and a valet drop point.
Officials expect the parking garage to deliver in about a year.
Snyder Langston, an Irvine contractor, will be building out the retail portion of the project.
Construction for phase three of the commercial core, comprising of the harbor’s waterfront buildings, is anticipated to begin March 2025. The final phases of the project will include the redevelopment of the structures on the wharf.
During construction, boaters and guests will still have access to the harbor’s waterfront.
The area’s existing businesses will also remain open during development, officials said.