Room for the big ships

NEWPORT BEACH — Some call the coastal stretch from Dana Point to Huntington Beach the Southern California Riviera.

Soon, they could have the mega-yachts to prove it.

City officials are considering how to accommodate the ultra-rich who want to visit Newport Beach in their yachts, some of which are as long as 150 feet.

The ships would bring in big spenders and tourists as well, city leaders say, leading to a boon for businesses like waterfront restaurants and marine service companies.

"If we're really going to be a world-class harbor, we've got to accommodate mega-yachts," Harbor Commissioner Ralph Rodheim said at a recent meeting.

He is leading a "visioning" study of the harbor, in which officials are looking to determine the best use of the shoreline and bay.

The location they've identified for a potential free-standing, mega-yacht dock is in the deep turning basin near Lido Marina Village. There, people strolling on a boardwalk could watch the floating icons of wealth.

"The larger boats do bring a certain prestige to the community," Councilwoman Leslie Daigle said at a recent meeting.

To berth these behemoths, Newport would likely have to build a long floating dock and hookups for electricity, sewer and water.

Beyond that, the visiting yachts wouldn't require much city support, said Harbor Commissioner Duncan McIntosh, who produces the Newport Boat Show in Lido Marina Village.

"They bring a lot of money to the community, but they don't need a lot of service," McIntosh said.

Visiting boaters, and people checking out their boats, could dine at restaurants in Lido Village and Mariner's Mile.

"We're always trying to get pleasure craft to come and dock, and even stay overnight," said Gary Sherwin, president of Visit Newport, the city's destination marketing organization. "Any opportunity to bring in more of that business would always be good news for Newport Beach."

This revisioning of harbor uses was prompted by Mayor Mike Henn's goal to make Newport a "world-class" harbor. He and other officials talked about mega-yachts when conceiving future uses of Lido Marina Village last year.

Some charter companies dock their large entertaining boats there now.

But private yachts are a different story. They typically are more elegant and sleek compared to the boxy charter vessels. While some Lido Isle residents complain about the noise coming from the charter boat parties, the mega-yachts would presumably be quiet.

"Even the residents like it," Rodheim said.

Marine businesses could benefit, too. Companies that sell electronics and upholstery, for example, could service the ships when in town. The Newport Harbor Shipyard, which can accommodate the largest vessels of the shipyards, can haul yachts of up to 150 feet and weighing up to 90 tons out of the water.

Mega-yachts on the West Coast aren't as big as those you would typically find in the Cannes, Monaco or the East Coast, McIntosh said. There, they often stretch beyond 200 feet, while here, they are more likely to fall between 90 feet and 140 feet.

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