Newport Beach breaks ground on library lecture hall; completion projected for 2026

Council members Joe Stapleton, Brad Avery, Robyn Grant, Noah Blom, Lauren Kleiman and Eric Weigand.
Council members Joe Stapleton, Brad Avery, Robyn Grant, Noah Blom, Lauren Kleiman, and Erik Weigand, from left, scoop a hill of sand as they join in a groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday for the new $23.7-million state-of-the-art lecture hall, to be named Witte Hall, at the Newport Beach Central Library.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In the footprint of what will eventually be the 299-seat library lecture hall, city officials and staff welcomed a small crowd of onlookers to the groundbreaking of Witte Hall late Tuesday afternoon.

Public works director Dave Webb described the project as the next “jewel” in the crown for Newport Beach. The lecture hall, which is named as a result of a $4-million commitment from Bill Witte and Keiko Sakamoto, was first proposed in 2019. It will be located next to the library courtyard, near the offices of the library staff and the Friends Room, which opened with the library in 1994.

A construction bid for the project was approved in January this year by a divided City Council.


The total all-in cost of the facility — $23.4 million — will be split between the city and the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation.

“A few of you are wondering what I’m going to say,” joked Mayor Will O’Neill, who voted against the project. “Actually, what I was thinking about recently was a quote from John Dewey, which is appropriate for this particular moment: ‘Democracy begins at home, and its home is the neighborly community.’ I mentioned that because democracy is tough, but it’s worth the fight and it’s worth the effort.

Mayor Will O'Neil makes comments on Witte Hall during a groundbreaking ceremony.
Mayor Will O’Neil makes comments on the project during a groundbreaking ceremony for Witte Hall. Construction is slated for completion in 2026.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“The best part about democracy is the push and pull of ideas and thoughts, especially when they’re firmly held and never spoken in anger. This project is obviously a project of democracy and the best part about this is when it’s completed and when it’s successful, we’re going to have a lot of discussion inside of the building — the push and pull of nuanced conversation.”

Newport Beach Public Library Foundation board of directors chair Kevin Barlow said the lecture hall will be a valuable resource and provide many literary, cultural and intellectual programs for the city.

Barlow noted the foundation’s role in the project was the same as when residents wanted a central library in 1994 — “to advocate on the behalf of the greater Newport Beach community for this construction and to help fund it by reaching out to those who believe in its significance and ask them for their support.”

Construction of the library is expected to take close to two years, with completion slated for 2026. The library’s parking lot was partially closed earlier this month so the work could begin. If parking is not immediately available, city staff encourage library patrons to use the Civic Center parking.

Jill Johnson-Tucker remarks on the project during groundbreaking ceremony.
Jill Johnson-Tucker offers remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for Witte Hall. Johnson-Tucker was a co-chair on the design committee.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“It was over 10 years ago that the board of the library trustees determined that the Friends Room was inadequate for the vision that we had of the programs that the library could offer and that community organizations could use for their public programs as well. We believed this true lecture hall would enhance the audience experience and fulfill the library’s mission to be the cultural, educational and informational heart of the city,” said Jill Johnson-Tucker, chair of the lecture hall design committee and chair of the “Beyond Books” fundraising campaign.

Johnson-Tucker thanked city staff, those who were on the design committee alongside her, Robert R. Coffee Architect + Associates and the Irvine Co.

“[Witte Hall] is going to be stunning,” she said. “And, more importantly, it will be responsive to the needs of our community.”

Newport Beach Public Library Foundation members and Newport Beach officials scoop sand.
Newport Beach Public Library Foundation members andNewport Beach officials scoop a hill of sand as they join in a groundbreaking ceremony for the new $23.7-million Witte Hall at the Newport Beach Central Library on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)