Coastal commission to decide fate of Balboa Inn

Paul Clinton

NEWPORT BEACH -- City leaders, viewing a planned expansion of the

Balboa Inn as the centerpiece in the revitalization of the village, are

confident about the project's chances when it goes to the California

Coastal Commission on Tuesday.

The $1.5-million project, approved by the City Council almost exactly

a year ago, would go hand-in-hand with the city's $8.8-million revamp of

the area's streets and parking, and the $4-million restoration of Balboa

Theater.

"It's the first step of landowners revitalizing their buildings,"

Mayor Tod Ridgeway said about plans to upgrade the historic hotel. "We're

just trying to redo the village."

That effort could be thwarted by coastal commission staff members, who

are opposed to the inn's expansion. Fernie Sy, the commission analyst

handling the project, said it would cut off some scenic views of Newport

Harbor and adversely change the "community character" by adding too much

mass.

"Staff is recommending denial of the project," Sy said.

The historic hotel has undergone a series of face lifts in recent

years, owner Michel Pourmussa said. After buying out his partner in 1998,

Pourmussa said he has spent about $300,000 in new work.

Pourmussa hopes to add 2,000 square feet of additional retail shops, a

24-car parking garage and 11 high-end suites to the 34-room hotel. Guests

could stay in the suites -- which would face the harbor and include a

fireplace, Jacuzzi, balcony and kitchenette -- for between $250 and $400

per night.

The hotel's swimming pool would be relocated to the second-floor deck

above the new parking garage.

Since he isn't accepting any federal tax credits on the renovation of

the Mission-Spanish Revival building, Pourmussa said he isn't following

federal standards for the restoration.

The inn, built in 1929, was placed on the National Register of

Historic Places in 1986. Since Walter Roland Hagedohm built it, the

building has served as a hotel for all but several years during World War

II, when it was used as a girls school.

During the early 1980s, the inn was owned by Kareem Abdul Jabbar,

Ralph Sampson and a group of other NBA players.

Last year, Pourmussa hired chef George Ristic, the well-known

restaurateur who ran George's Camelot Restaurant for nearly two decades.

Ristic lost the restaurant during a bankruptcy. He opened George's

Place in the hotel in November.

The quaint inn is in desperate need of restoration work, said Richard

Luehrs, the executive director of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.

"It deserves a face lift and expansion," Luehrs said. "It's an ideally

situated property . . . [in] a very desirable location."

A handful of shop owners near the inn have raised concerns about

Pourmussa's plans. James W. Read, one of those to object, had filed an

appeal with the city last year to overturn a Dec. 7 Planning Commission

approval. Read had hoped to force a public vote under the city's new

Greenlight law, but the expansion is not large enough to fall under that

law.

Pourmussa has also agreed to settle a long-running debt with city

planners, who contend that he owes about $50,000 in back fees.

"We are trying to resolve it with the city," Pourmussa said. "We

agreed to pay the original amount."

* Paul Clinton covers the environment and John Wayne Airport. He may

be reached at (949) 764-4330 or by e-mail ato7

paul.clinton@latimes.comf7 .

FYI

* WHAT: California Coastal Commission meeting

* WHEN: 9 a.m. Tuesday

* WHERE: Westin Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport, 5400 W.

Century Blvd., Los Angeles

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