Newport opens new civic center

Mayor Keith Curry, center, speaks during the opening ceremony for Newport Beach's new Civic Center and Park on Saturday.
(KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot)

Music, food and bunny rabbits welcomed hundreds of area residents to the opening of Newport Beach’s new Civic Center on Saturday.

As the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band played “Stars and Stripes Forever” before Saturday’s ceremony, many families checked out city hall’s new home, some venturing out to the circle of bunny statues on the campus periphery and others peering over the viewing platform at the end of the San Miguel bridge on the breezy morning.

Speakers called the new campus a “civic vision” that is “more than a city hall.”

“Long after the price is forgotten the quality remains,” said councilman Ed Selich.

Mayor Keith Curry called the grand opening gratifying and said he was happy to see so many residents enjoying the grounds.

“It validates [that] this is really going to be a real civic center,” Curry said.

The new facility includes an expanded library, 1.23 miles of walking trails that wind through wetlands and a dog park, which several attendees took advantage of by bringing their pooches.

Steven Chaitow, the project manager and principal at architecture firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, said that every feature of the new building was intentional and multifunctional, such as the glass sides and roof that maximize natural light. The roof also has windows that open automatically.

Chaitow added that while most civic centers can have an unfriendly atmosphere, the Newport facility is aimed at welcoming residents.

Going to city hall is often “something you have to go through,” he said. “Newport Beach has made this a place you want to go to.”

Tami and Rod Turner brought their daughters Natalie, 5, and 7-year-old Ashley to the event. Both girls were wearing blue and white striped shirts with glittery red anchors that matched the civic center’s nautical theme.

“We figure these guys are the ones that are going to be growing up here,” Rod Turner said. The family was particularly excited about one addition.

“They love the library,” Tami Turner said.

But some at Saturday’s opening weren’t happy about the new facility or its price tag. About six demonstrators stood on Avocado Avenue holding signs reading “Stop the Dock Tax,” and protesting the roughly $130 million spent on the new campus.

Protester Tom Regan said a city of 90,000 people doesn’t need a building of such grandeur.

“How can you spend that much money?” Regan said. “How can you spend $160 million on a city this size?”

Regan said he lived in Europe for a time and one thing he noticed struck a chord with him.

“If it works and it’s good and it’s functional, it’s fine,” Regan said. “I guess that sort of stuck with me.”

During the invocation from the Rev. Richard Kannwischer, protesters took their message to the skies with planes flying signs that read “Stop the dock tax” and “Taj Mahal – $140 million taxpayer rip-off.”

Mayor Keith Curry called city halls across the nation “the emblem of democracy from coast to coast” and addressed the “critics” and the “cynics” by referring to former President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech in which the 26th president said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”

“How different our city would be if we listened to the cynics and the critics,” Curry said.

After the ceremony, while other residents tasted dishes from about 20 local restaurants, Dennis Whelan sat inside the new city hall near the permit counter with his son Steve and his napping 2-year-old grandson Mick. Whelan described the facility as “beautiful” and said it was overdue.

“The citizens of Newport Beach deserve this. I’m very happy, very proud,” Whelan said. “I don’t see anything negative here.”

While he disagreed with the protesters’ message, he appreciated their presence.

“You’re always going to have that in a democracy — a noisy few,” Whelan said. “Thank goodness for them. We should have more people speaking out.”