Nautical museum plans expansion

The Newport Harbor Nautical Museum unveiled plans Saturday for a name change and massive expansion on the Balboa Fun Zone that will dramatically change the landscape of the Balboa Village area of Newport Beach.

The new museum, which will be called “ExplorOcean,” will become “an interactive premier cultural destination,” according to an announcement on the expansion.

“During research and discovery, a new brand identity was explored to best communicate an interactive and engaging connection between people and the ocean. ExplorOcean defines the future of the museum,” nautical museum officials said in a written statement.

The new ExplorOcean facilities are slated to stretch from Palm Avenue to Washington Street. The venue will include a three-story parking garage on the site of the old Balboa Village Market on East Balboa Boulevard, according to preliminary plans for the site.

The Newport Beach City Council voted in January to buy the shuttered Balboa Village Market site for $3.5 million to make way for more parking.

Designs for the ExplorOcean museum show plans for a large theater, weather station, cafe, gift shop and a large curvilinear dock with enough space for tallships.

The museum is in the midst of a $35-million fundraising campaign to raise enough money to build a new, larger facility on the Fun Zone property.

About $7 million has been raised for the project.

Museum officials hope to see the new facilities open to the public in five years.

The new expansion plans come just three months after a change in leadership at the museum.

The Newport Harbor Nautical Museum Board of Trustees appointed Rita Stenlund as the museum’s interim executive director in January after Director David Muller abruptly stepped down.

Muller had served as the executive director since June 2005.

When Muller took over, the museum was housed in a 13,000-square-foot converted restaurant space aboard the Pride of Newport riverboat in Newport Harbor.

In 2005, the nautical museum bought 34,000 square feet of waterfront property and adjacent docks in the Balboa Fun Zone with dreams of turning the area into a larger museum campus.

Two buildings in the fun zone now house the museum’s collections.

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