The Newport Harbor Nautical Museum is getting closer to reaching its ambitious fundraising goals, according to museum President Rita Stenlund.
The museum also has profile-raising community events coming up, from a kick-off party for the Newport to Ensenada yacht race Sunday to weekly family events starting in June.
Stenlund told the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that the museum now has about $8 million in an investment fund. That’s up from the $6.6 million listed in its 2011 tax return and $5.1 million the year before.
The museum has big plans to level its current facility in the Balboa Fun Zone and replace it with a 40,000-square-foot, three-story facility called ExplorOcean, which would feature a Star Tours-style, hydraulics-mounted, surround-screen simulator capable of taking audiences from the South Seas to Viking raids. Other key features include two-man submarine simulators, an ocean observatory, a navigation lab and an adventure pier with a maze and Ferris wheel.
All that will cost money; the museum should know just how much in the next month or two, once an economic analysis is completed, Stenlund said.
The $35-million figure that’s been reported was for an early design that wasn’t fleshed out, she said.
The museum is also working on an economic impact study that will present the museum as “a contributor to the renaissance of Balboa Village.”
The neighborhood “has become somewhat run-down over the years,” she said.
Some neighbors have criticized the museum, which bought the property in 2005, for closing rides in the Fun Zone — in particular, a historic carousel.
Renderings for ExplorOcean prominently feature the Ferris wheel on the property, but none of the other boardwalk attractions.
“We feel a sense of responsibility to protect a cherished place, the Fun Zone,” Stenlund said.
So the museum will be hosting Family Fun Zone Fridays, which will feature face-painting and the like, starting June 15, she said.
Stenlund highlighted the museum’s connection to the Five Dives project — a plan to reach the deepest part of the planet’s five oceans in a custom submarine usually based in Newport Harbor — which was founded by local adventurer Chris Welsh and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame.
“If you go to our website, you’ll see [Branson’s] endorsement of our project. Now I just need to get him to write a check,” she said.
Over the next 18 to 24 months, the museum will be looking for big donors to establish a critical mass, and then turn to community fundraising in hopes of getting all the money together by 2017, she said.
In response to questions, Stenlund said that ExplorOcean would have a different approach than Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific, which focuses on marine life, and the Ocean Institute in Dana Point with its lab orientation.
“Ours is entertaining, and then you discover that you’ve learned something, which is the best way to capture youth,” she said.