ExplorOcean, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum's ambitious interactive exhibit, could be completed in as little as five years, the organization's president said this week.
President Rita Redaelli Stenlund led a presentation hosted by Speak Up Newport at the Newport Yacht Club on Wednesday night as part of the museum's efforts for the 34,000-square-foot attraction next to the Balboa Fun Zone.
"Once we moved here, we not only felt a commitment to the mission of the museum, but we also realized the responsibility we have to the community for residing in this spot," Stenlund said of museum, which bought property on the Balboa Peninsula in 2006. "This project exudes the 'fun' that is so much a part of the Fun Zone, as well as containing the enrichment and the educational components."
Plans for ExplorOcean include a 360-degree theater with "4-D" effects — the fourth dimension being scents — that's intended to simulate a real ocean voyage, a massive ship playground, an 8,000-square-foot upper-level deck, "living" wall landscaping elements and LEED certification with a solar panel roof.
ExplorOcean plans also incorporate 22,000 square feet of waterfront space with a 150-foot dock and "Adventure Pier" that's planned to have a new Ferris wheel, interactive maze and water play area.
"It's about generating a whole new wave of ocean discovery by breaking down those barriers and getting kids excited about that vast frontier that is the ocean," Stenlund said.
The museum plans to work with Fun Zone ride operator Patrick Moore on upgrading the area's Ferris wheel, but it is still too early to speculate how those plans play out, Stenlund said Thursday.
Moore had to relocate the Fun Zone's iconic carousel in September. It remains in storage after the museum did not renew the lease for the space on the patio area.
However, the museum granted a 30-year lease extension for the space the Ferris wheel occupies when the museum took over ownership of the property, Moore said. That lease has 24 years remaining.
"I am very happy at the exact location I have and with my current Ferris wheel," Moore wrote in an email Thursday. "I have worked here for 23 years and purchased the Ferris wheel and its lease for a huge sum of money four years ago, the value being in the location."
Moore owns two Ferris wheels, one of which is undergoing a $20,000 in restoration. His plan has been to switch out the current wheel for his restored one in about four years.
However, he said it remains unclear as to the museum's intentions toward the amusements.
To many, the changing landscape on the peninsula represents a loss of history — multiple community groups rallied to protest the removal of the carousel, without success, last year.
Yet others take the changes as the cost of modern-day business and as improvements to an area in need of revitalization.
"The whole area around the Fun Zone has had issues in terms of maintenance and restoration in order to keep it a fun, safe environment for families," Newport Beach resident Sue Buettell said after Wednesday night's meeting. "So, it's a very exciting project from that perspective."
While Buettell still has some reservations about the project, she said the museum's preview center laid a lot of those concerns to rest for her.
The preview center on East Bay Street contains a model of the project, some renderings and a video that outlines the before-and-after changes to the area.
"It's something that's been there for a long time," Newport Beach resident Lee Fellinge said of the property. "Seeing that go is almost like losing what made Newport, Newport. But, you have to recalibrate. If they can pull this off, it can be even better than what it was before."