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City explores moving Newport Pier restaurant site closer to shore

NEWPORT BEACH, MARCH 19, 2015 - A fisherman prepares to cast his line off the Newport Pier near a va
Anglers and sightseers gather near the vacant restaurant building at the end of the Newport Pier. The city might demolish the deteriorating structure and rebuild midway down the pier.
(File Photo)

Plans to revive the long-shuttered restaurant on the Newport Pier are moving along — perhaps about 500 feet closer to shore.

It’s not a sure thing. Relocating the site would require approval from the California Coastal Commission, and the Newport Beach City Council would have to agree to the funding — an amount not yet known.

But the revitalization is a long time coming, according to Mayor Diane Dixon. The structure has been vacant since 2012, and the city has been working with the owners of Newport-based Bluewater Grill for three years to create a concept to reanimate the end of the pier by demolishing the deteriorating restaurant shell and building anew.

“We know that the end restaurant is dysfunctional and we need to address that old building out there,” said city Public Works Director Dave Webb.

One potential way to do that, Webb told a supportive City Council at its annual planning session Saturday, is to rebuild closer to the beach.

He suggested putting the restaurant roughly midway down the north side of the 1,000-foot pier, widening the part that pops out over the sea.

“From a marketing standpoint, that makes a lot of sense,” Webb said.

He said the new location could draw foot traffic, make the restaurant more accessible and give more space to anglers, who, under state mandate, must be allowed to fish for free from the end of public piers.

Relocating also would make utilities less expensive to connect, Webb said.

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This sketch shows the proposed new location of the Newport Pier's restaurant (in red).
(Courtesy of city of Newport Beach)

The existing terraced, boxy building, last known as Newport Pier Grill & Sushi, has been part of the pier’s silhouette since the 1940s. It was renovated and expanded in the ’80s, but since the sushi restaurant’s lease expired seven years ago, it has become an oversize pigeon roost with peeling blue paint, a sun-bleached second-floor patio and rusty awnings.

The city partnered with Bluewater Grill in 2016 to pitch a new design. The following year, with preliminary sketches for a sleek, modern eatery in hand, the council gave city staff the green light to apply for state development permits to tear down and rebuild. Staff started negotiating lease terms with the restaurant operators.

But a few months ago, staff — keeping in mind planned, unrelated infrastructure upgrades to the nearly 80-year-old pier — suggested the option of moving the location closer to shore.

Dixon said it’s a “brilliant” idea and that the city and restaurateurs may split the cost.

“I’m anxious to get going, as is the community,” she said.

Dixon said funding for the rebuild could appear in next fiscal year’s budget, which will go before the council this spring.

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The vacant restaurant building at the end of the Newport Pier is pictured in 2015.
(File Photo)