Nautical museum set to abandon ship

After 10 years on the water, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum is moving to solid ground.

Museum executive director David Muller hopes its new home -- a building with vaulted ceilings and a public wharf in front -- will be a landmark in Newport Beach. 

A "preview" of the new museum's exhibits is set to open at the new site at the end of August. Muller on Monday revealed drawings of plans for the $8.5-million facility, which will be built in phases over a five-year period.

Founded in 1986, the nautical museum has been on a riverboat ? the Pride of Newport, formerly called the Rueben E. Lee ? for a decade. In 2005 officials announced plans to move to the Balboa Fun Zone.

As the museum is built, three Fun Zone rides will be scrapped. The Ferris wheel is on a lease through 2030, and the merry-go-round will remain, at least in the short term.

With the museum's prime waterfront location and planned interactive exhibits, Muller wants to reel in some of the estimated 500,000 to 1 million visitors to the Balboa Peninsula each year.

Muller said museum features could include a virtual sailing machine that lets users feel the movement of a boat and steer it, an "electronic docent" that describes the model ship displays, and a tiny camera inside model ships to show what it's like to stand at the helm.

Newport Beach architect Jay Bauer, who also designed Dana Point's Ocean Institute and the Camp shopping center in Costa Mesa, created the plans for the nautical museum.

While the museum is seen easily on the riverboat at Coast Highway and Bayside Drive, it will be more accessible at the Fun Zone, Bauer said.

And there were other reasons for the move ? the Irvine Co. isn't renewing the lease on the museum parking lot, and the boat with an expected 20-year lifespan is now 41 years old.

Muller said about 30% of the museum's budget went toward maintaining the riverboat.

The Newport Harbor Nautical Museum has a net worth of $14.5 million, museum board president Terry Bibbens said.

A campaign to raise $19.5 million will allow the museum to pay off its debts, including a bank loan of $10.5 million, and cover the new facility, though it may take five years before the whole of it is built, he said. Donors have pledged about $6 million so far.

As for the Fun Zone rides that will be displaced, the bumper cars, Drummer Boy and Scary Dark Ride will close by Sept. 18, said Joe Tunstall, owner of Balboa Fun Zone Rides Inc.

He's offered the rides for sale, but so far he hasn't gotten a firm offer. The Drummer Boy, a teacup ride, goes for $64,000; the Scary Dark Ride is $65,000; and the bumper cars are $130,000 ? though Tunstall said those may change.

"The closer we get to [Sept.] 18th, the better the price we may accept," he said.

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