Civic Center to make official debut

Whether they love it, hate it or didn't know it was there, Newport Beach residents will finally have their chance Saturday to see for themselves what the city's new Civic Center has to offer.

"I think the Civic Center is going to be a focal point of community pride," Mayor Keith Curry said Wednesday. "I think it's going to be a gathering place. I'm looking forward to the community seeing all of what is involved in the Civic Center."

Debate over the project has continued to rage, with some blasting its $130-million-plus price tag as excessive, even as crews planted succulents and city staff moved into their new digs near Fashion Island and Newport Center, off Avocado Avenue.

But the city has asked skeptics to reserve judgment until they check out the finished product — a campus that includes the council chambers, city office building, 16-acre park with more than a mile of trails, 450-space parking structure and 17,000-square-foot expansion of the central library.

"I think it's important to remember that it's six separate facilities," Curry said.

Added Assistant City Manager Steve Badum: "I think we've delivered such an awesome facility that I think, not that there won't be any naysayers — there's always a few. But our impressions from the folks who have come in are they're really, really excited about it and they're happy about how it turned out."

At the long-planned open house, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.,

visitors will be able to roam the grounds, snack on samples donated by 22 Newport Beach Restaurant Assn. members and take part in a range of activities.

An official dedication ceremony will kick off festivities.

The event will bookend a years-long saga that started with a preliminary plan to build a new City Hall at the old site on the Balboa Peninsula. Then, after a battle that divided the community, the move to Newport Center was set when residents narrowly approved a ballot measure in February 2008.

The City Council has met in the new chambers since December, leaving behind its old home.

In early March, the rest of the city's employees — along with boxes of documents and other accumulated stuff — followed.

Curry said the new, more-open floor plan has already made city staff more accessible.

"I've met more city employees in the past two weeks than in my entire seven years on the City Council," he joked.

Library Services Director Cynthia Cowell said she hopes the library expansion will help area residents be more productive too, with additions that will help take the facility into the future.

"One of the biggest features is the media lab we're going to open so people can come in and create," she said. The computers will be equipped with expensive photo editing and computer-assisted drawing software, to ensure that the lab is "not just someplace you can go to check your email."

Cowell said that while a few events are scheduled for the library, she said visitors should be "mindful of people who are coming in to study and read."

City staff may want to use some of those new chairs for naps after festivities wind down, Badum said.

"All of us are going to be completely exhausted," he said. "But it'll be a happy exhausted.

If You Go

What: Newport Beach Civic Center and Park Community Celebration

Where: 100 Civic Center Drive, Newport Beach

When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

Information: For a detailed event schedule, call (949) 644-3151 or visit

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