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Martin A. Brower's "Along the Coast"

A sumptuous cheeseboard from Saint Marc Pub and Café includes sweet honeycomb, grainy mustard, pickled asparagus spears and fresh garnishes such as red radishes and grapes.

A new ocean-facing luxury hotel will open on the Orange County coast in the spring with completion of the eight-story, 250-room Pasea Hotel and Spa rising on Pacific Coast Highway near First Street in Huntington Beach. Located next to the just-opened Pacific City retail center, Pasea will join Pacific Hospitality Group’s Meritage Collection, which includes the posh Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara and the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach.
In addition to its 250 rooms, including eight suites, the Pasea will offer 11 meeting rooms; 34,000 square feet of event space, including an 8,500-square-foot ballroom; and 191,000 square feet of retail and restaurants.

The hotel’s as-yet-unnamed main dining room will face the Pacific Ocean on one side and an exhibition kitchen through a wall of glass on the other. A rooftop restaurant and cocktail lounge are also planned. The hotel’s 5,800-square-foot Balinese-inspired spa is named Aarna.

Pasea’s lushly landscaped grounds will include two swimming pools, complete with VIP cabanas. Designed by the renowned hotel architectural firm WATG in Irvine, the hotel presents undulating walls on its exterior. The name Pasea is a combination of Pacific and sea, noting the hotel’s location across Pacific Coast Highway from Huntington Beach State Park and the Pacific Ocean. The hotel is a joint venture of Pacific Hospitality Group and R.D. Olson Development.

Pasea’s general manager Scott Blakeslee views the hotel as combining the needs of both business and leisure travelers, and predicts the hotel will earn four stars and four diamonds after opening.

South County has a striking new landmark with near-completion of the 21-story, glass-and-stainless-steel-faced 200 Spectrum Center office tower in the Irvine Spectrum. Designed by the New York architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed, the tower makes a bold statement as it is viewed from either the 405 or I-5 freeways near their confluence at Irvine Spectrum. The Irvine Co.’s 425,000-square-foot building is scheduled to open in March.
Surprisingly, design of the new office building is a sharp departure from the longtime architectural taste of Irvine Co. chairman Donald Bren, who typically favored office building exteriors that express their structure – allowing their vertical columns and their horizontal supports to show. This design was championed by the Chicago-headquartered architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Bren used the firm when he first acquired the Irvine Co. in the 1980s as architect for three office towers in Jamboree Center near Jamboree Road and the 405 freeway. He then switched to the New York architectural firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox for the three beige high-rise office towers along the 405 in Irvine Spectrum. Again, the buildings displayed their structure. Another shift in architects came for design of the two newest 21-story office towers in Newport Center. Architects Pei Cobb Freed designed the two buildings, again expressing their structure.

Now, in a surprising shift – and again using Pei Cobb Freed – the new 200 Spectrum Center office tower presents a shimmering exterior clad in floor-to-ceiling glass and linen-finish stainless steel. When considering a stainless steel exterior, one recalls the Segerstrom office tower in South Coast Metro designed by I.M. Pei. But even that building exhibits some structural elements.

Leasing is underway for the new South County landmark, at Spectrum Center and Irvine Center drives. Parking will be in a six-level parking structure for 1,459 vehicles.

The newest residential village on the Irvine Ranch, to be called Eastwood, will begin construction early this year north of Irvine Boulevard and west of Jeffrey Road. Six neighborhoods of homes are planned, all to be built by the Irvine Co.’s in-house homebuilder Irvine Pacific.

The neighborhoods are Avalon and Helena, both with townhomes and flats; Petaluma and Marin, both with courtyard homes; and Piedmont and Belvedere, both with traditional single-family homes. Sizes will range from 1,161 square feet in Avalon to 2,952 square feet in Belvedere. An elementary school will open in the village in August 2017.


“What’s Ahead for Orange County for 2016?” was the title of my speech to the Real Estate Investors Association of California meeting in Anaheim, and I told the assembled investors and brokers that I had good news. Jobs, which drive the economy, look to be up by 47,000 during 2015, the best job growth in 15 years, according to Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi, who added that “Orange County’s momentum is fantastic.”

While economists cannot get themselves to predict such huge job growth numbers for 2016, they nevertheless shave off only a small percentage from projections for similar job growth for the coming year. Typically conservative economist Adibi forecasts 41,000 new jobs. The county’s employment growth continues to be broad-based – health care, leisure/hospitality, government, construction, manufacturing, medical devices, computer equipment, food processing and financing.

Manufacturing in Orange County? Yes. Although manufacturing jobs are down in the United States as a whole, Orange County was seventh in the nation in new factory jobs during 2015. That is one reason why Orange County’s exports soared to $28.1 billion during 2015. Orange County manufacturing is also broad-based, from medical device makers such as Edwards Lifesciences in Irvine and Applied Medical in Rancho Santa Margarita to aerospace companies such as Panasonic Avionics in Lake Forest and Parker Aerospace in Irvine.
In real estate, home prices continue their upward trend and are forecast to continue to grow during 2016; office vacancy is down to single digits; industrial is red hot; and retail space is at a premium. Orange County hotels have become a darling of real estate investors.
Apartments continue to be strong, with rents up and vacancy low. Although average rent in Orange County apartments is a whopping $1,807 per month, Angela Kralovec, president of Commercial Real Estate Women, says, “In Orange County, apartments are affordable housing.”

So how long will Orange County’s economy continue to shine? Business cycles will always impact the nation and the county. The next downturn? UCLA economist William Yu has determined that housing cycles – a strong indicator of economic health – last for 12 years on average – seven years of a bull market and five years of a bear market.  We are now three years into a bull market, so we should have four more years of good news.


Take a taste of Orange County’s high-profile food openings

Lighthouse Cafe: Thirty-three years after opening Ruby’s Diner on the Balboa Pier, founder Doug Cavanaugh is back in the neighborhood with Lighthouse Cafe at Newport Beach’s new Marina Park. The 67-seat lighthouse-shaped restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 1600 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach.

Vaca: Amar Santana, chef and owner of Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach, has been planning his new Vaca for a long time. The Spanish steakhouse with tapas is across from Segerstrom Center. 695 Town Center Drive, Suite 170, Costa Mesa.

Saint Marc: This unusual food concept joins OC’s new Pacific City. The mashup is part pub, cafe, bakery and cheese shop. Menu highlights include a bacon bar, charcuterie and more than 100 types of cheese. 21058 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach.

Ways & Means Oyster House: The former Orange restaurant has moved to Pacific City. Owner Jennifer Delcham said the eatery offers “small plates, as well as fish, chicken and steak entrees.” In the 170-seat restaurant every table offers an ocean view. 21022 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach.

North Italia: North Italia, from the owners of True Food Kitchen, is taking the spot where California Pizza Kitchen used to operate near Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The restaurant bakes pizzas in a stone oven and serves house-made pasta. 2957 Michelson Drive, Irvine.

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