Discovery Cube seeks $6 million loan to refinance its Ocean Quest property at Balboa Village

The Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday signed off on a request from Discovery Cube Orange County for a $6 million loan from a Sacramento-based agency to refinance debt on Discovery Cube’s marine educational facility called Ocean Quest in Newport’s Fun Zone.

Mayor Kevin Muldoon dissented in the council’s 6-1 vote.

Santa Ana-based Discovery Cube is asking the California Enterprise Development Authority for $6 million to refinance the Balboa Village property to get a better interest rate, said Joe Adams, Discovery Cube president. Ocean Quest formerly was called ExplorOcean.

The California Enterprise Development Authority is a joint powers authority whose goal is to provide money to small and midsize manufacturers and nonprofits for expansion and job creation.

Muldoon said he voted against the request because there were other ways the nonprofit could secure the funds without using city staff time.

The $6 million would not come from city coffers, and Newport wouldn’t be on the hook if Discovery Cube failed to pay back the loan, according to city staff.

But since the property is within Newport Beach city limits, the city is required to sign off on the request before CEDA can issue the funds.

Adams said that with less money being spent on interest, Discovery Cube likely would be more able to expand educational programs at Ocean Quest.

Discovery Cube Orange County and ExplorOcean, both nonprofit organizations, merged in April 2016.

As a result, ExplorOcean — renamed Ocean Quest — became a satellite center for Discovery Cube. The deal was seen as a way for the organizations to expand their audience and energize the prime Newport Harbor location known as the Fun Zone, which has struggled with its identity in recent years.

Leaders of both organizations said last year that the plan is to give the area a boost through exhibits and programs geared toward ocean-oriented science, technology, engineering and math education.

ExplorOcean served 40,000 students in 2015 through field trips, in-class programs, exhibits, summer camps and a boat for hands-on ocean experiences.

Discovery Cube draws about 600,000 people each year to its Santa Ana science museum, formerly known as the Discovery Science Center.

In 2005, ExplorOcean — formerly the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum — bought nearly two acres in Balboa Village, including the center’s current building, the boardwalk and the marina.

ExplorOcean, the second-largest landowner in the area behind the city of Newport Beach, was a key player in the transformation of the Fun Zone from a 1950s-style seaside carnival to a marine-focused educational facility.

ExplorOcean had planned to build a complex with an expanded Ocean Literacy Center with 4-D attractions, interactive exhibits and an ocean education curriculum to supplement marine studies in school districts across California. But it abandoned the plan in 2014 after realizing the entitlement process would be too expensive for the nonprofit, officials said.

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN