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Martin A. Brower's Along the Coast

The new resort The Ranch at Laguna Beach set to open

A $19.8 million remaking of downtown Dana Point includes new archways and landscaping.

You may not have heard of a resort called The Ranch at Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach resident Mark Christy, who in 2013 purchased what was originally named Ben Brown’s and at the time called the Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course, is re-envisioning and reconstructing the 83-acre property into a boutique ranch-style resort.

Nestled in a magnificent canyon inland from Coast Highway near Aliso Beach Park, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is operating in preview mode while construction is underway, but will be ready for an official grand opening in June. Included will be 97 rooms and suites in a series of one- and two-story rustic buildings with interiors designed by Laguna’s Laurie Alter.
When fully opened, the Ranch will include 64 410-square-foot Canyon rooms; nine 600-square-foot creekside studios; three 715-square-foot creekside suites; 20 two-level, two-bedroom 1,125-square-foot cottages; and a 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom treehouse with a 270-degree view. Room rates will begin at $350.

Dining will be provided in the Harvest, an all-day dining venue; Ben’s Pantry outdoor café; and The Pond at the swimming pool. The 3,000-square-foot Sycamore Spa and Fitness Center will provide a full range of spa amenities. Groups will convene in the 8,000 square feet of indoor ballroom and meeting rooms and in the 50,000 square feet of outdoor event venues.

Activity centers include the nine-hole, 32-par Ben Brown Golf Course and a new Ranch House Interpretive Center offering a broad range of programs. General manager is Kurt Bjorkman, and Jim Tolbert is director of sales and marketing.

Groundbreaking for the luxury Lido House Hotel, planned for the 4.25-acre site of the former Newport Beach City Hall in the Lido Village area of Newport Beach near the entrance to Balboa Peninsula, will take place in May, according to R.D. Olson Development. Olson was awarded the right to develop the project in July 2013, in competition with two other developers, but construction had to await approvals of the hotel plan from the city of Newport Beach and the California Coastal Commission.

Plans by architects WATG of Irvine call for a four-story, 130-room hotel reflecting a Nantucket/Newport Beach nautical motif. The hotel building will extend around a landscaped central courtyard with a swimming pool, fireplace, lawn and water feature. A landscaped public plaza will extend along Newport Boulevard.

In addition to traditional guest rooms, the hotel will provide extended-stay suites and two-story extended-stay villas.  Included are a 3,195-square-foot restaurant, 4,400 square feet of function space and associated retail facilities.  

“We are passionate about Lido House and want to make it truly special. Our investors are all from Newport Beach,” said Olson CEO Bob Olson. Opening is projected for the summer of 2017.

 It is hard to believe, but after 35 years of hosting rock concerts, symphonies and special performances, the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, at one time known as Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, will close after this spring and summer’s programs. When the amphitheater’s lease with the Irvine Co. expires in 2017, the 16,000-seat facility will be demolished.

The 500-acre site on which the amphitheater is located once included Lion Country Safari, a drive-through wild animal park that closed in 1984, and then Wild Rivers water park, which closed when its lease expired in 2011.

On the site of the water park, the Irvine Co. developed the 1,750-unit Los Olivos apartment complex.  When the amphitheater closes, the company will develop the next 1,950 units of Los Olivos on the amphitheater’s parking lot.  Although the amphitheater, set into a hillside, will be demolished, no plans have yet been announced for that portion of the site.

The Pacific Symphony, which has long sponsored a highly successful summer series in the amphitheater preceded by picnic dinners on the lawns, and Live Nation, which sponsors the concerts, are looking for other venues. A plan for a new amphitheater in Irvine’s Great Park has been circulating, but is a long way off, if ever. For now, the Pacific Amphitheatre at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa is a possibility, but there are major noise restrictions there.

Dana Point’s downtown revitalization has completed its first step – converting formerly one-way Del Prado into a two-way street and landscaping the newly revised boulevard. Now branded as the Lantern District, with a high archway over the street where it departs from Pacific Coast Highway to identify it, Del Prado between Blue Lantern and Golden Lantern streets boasts a heavily landscaped median strip.  

Included in the two-year, $19.8 million “re-energizing” project are wider sidewalks with corner planters jutting outward and new street signs. Landscaping includes rows of palm and liquidambar trees, bougainvillea, and special lighting.

Dana Point’s goal is to re-energize its downtown to attract visitors, including tourists and business groups staying at the nearby Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis and Laguna Cliffs Marriott hotels and the Doubletree Suites.

Now needed, with the completion of the Lantern District’s main thoroughfare, are many more shops and restaurants.  Dana Point is betting that they will come.

When the Irvine Co. opened Irvine Spectrum Center 20 years ago, its tenants reflected then-Irvine Co. investment properties head Richard Sim’s concept that the center was best-suited for entertainment and dining, not for major retail outlets. Since that time, Macy’s (then Robinsons-May) and Nordstrom opened midsize department stores in the Spectrum. Now, as part of Macy’s reduction of less-profitable stores, Macy’s in the Irvine Spectrum will close at the end of March.

Irvine Co. plans are to demolish the Macy’s store and replace it with two new buildings on either side of a plaza with space for 20 shops. Small shops are integral to the Spectrum experience of wandering, eating and impulse shopping.

The new shops are part of the company’s $150 million reinvestment plan for the Spectrum, which includes new landscaping, seating, and improvements to parking garages and circulation. The 20 new shops will be added to the 130 stores and restaurants, which serve a reported 17 million visitors a year.

Sparking the growth of today’s Orange County was the arrival of several large industrial firms in the late 1950s and early 1960s seeking to develop campus-like facilities on the vast and relatively inexpensive open spaces.  Among them were Autonetics (later Rockwell, then Boeing) in Anaheim, Beckman Instruments (later Beckman Coulter) and Hughes Ground Systems in Fullerton.

Alas, times change and companies merge and move, especially as Orange County land has become increasingly expensive.  Autonetics originally purchased 260 acres in Anaheim, and after acquisition by Rockwell and a restructuring no longer requiring the Anaheim facility, the 260 acres was acquired by Panattoni Development for construction of a multibuilding industrial park.

Hughes Ground Systems purchased 293 acres in Fullerton, and after much of Hughes was acquired by Boeing and subsequently restructured, that facility was closed and the site was sold for residential and commercial uses.

Now comes the final curtain. Beckman Instruments originally purchased a 102-acre site on Harbor Boulevard near Imperial Highway for its eight-building, 600,000-square-foot research, development and manufacturing facility. In 1997 Beckman purchased Coulter Corp. to become Beckman Coulter, and in 2009 the company moved to new facilities in Brea, listing its now-74-acre Fullerton site for sale the following year.

Late last year, Newport Beach-based Western Realco acquired 30 acres of the remaining 44-acre site, with the option to purchase the additional 14 acres later this year. Western Realco plans to develop a multibuilding business park with 900,000 or more square feet. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2017.

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