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NEWPORT BEACH : Council Breaks Rules for New Restaurant

The City Council has told the Hard Rock Cafe to let the good times roll, approving a huge guitar statue that breaks size and style regulations for the Fashion Island restaurant scheduled to open in November.

After hearing testimony from half a dozen supporters of the guitar sign, the council voted unanimously Monday night to approve the construction of a 40-foot guitar. Hard Rock Cafe officials had originally proposed a 50-foot sign, with the guitar atop a 10-foot fountain, but council members decided to limit the height as a symbolic compromise with community members who opposed the sign.

Current regulations in Fashion Island say signs must be no taller than five feet, and must not exceed 50 square feet. The guitar will be more than 250 square feet, and will include animation and neon illumination normally prohibited in the upscale shopping mall. The city retains the right to control the animation, according to guidelines passed by the Planning Commission last month.

“In these times, everyone is looking for some kind of vitality and vibrancy in the business community to give it a shot in the arm,” Councilman John C. Cox Jr. said as he made a motion to approve the guitar sign. Cox and other members said they hoped the Hard Rock would help combat Fashion Island’s “stuffy” image and bring increased tourism--as well as sales tax revenue--to the city.

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Hard Rock Vice President of Operations Jim Rees told the council that his company expected the Newport Beach outlet to gross $9 million to $11 million in its first year of operation, generating $700,000 in sales tax and jobs for 150 local residents. Of the 30 Hard Rock Cafes worldwide, the two busiest--in Las Vegas and Chicago--both have guitars like the one that will sit outside the Newport Beach restaurant.

The restaurant will seat about 250.

“The building was designed in such a manner that it needs some sort of signage or statue or calling card,” Rees told the council. Rees showed slides that depicted the limited visibility of the proposed sign from nearby residential areas. “It will bring energy and enthusiasm to the entire facility and the entire shopping center.”

Rees said the sign will cost about $500,000.

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No opponents of the sign spoke at Monday night’s meeting. But Mayor Phil Sansone read aloud a letter of protest from a Newport Center law firm. Other council members said they, too, had received complaints from nearby businesses, and the city clerk distributed a letter from Corona del Mar residents Jack and Shirley McManus that called the proposed guitar “garish” and said the sign “would be an insult” to Fashion Island tenants “and (an) eyesore to a quality area.”

Representatives of the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the Fashion Island Merchants Assn. and the Irvine Co., which owns the property, spoke in support of the sign, calling it a work of art that would diversify the center.

“If their proposal is that this sign will make the difference between a successful store and a tremendously successful store, then I urge you not to handcuff them,” Dick Marowitz, a merchant in Fashion Island for 25 years, told the council. “I envision a synergism between the sign, the store and the mall itself.”


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