Bluewater Grill may open Newport Pier location

A new seafood restaurant could be on the horizon for the Newport Pier.

The Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to enter into an agreement with Bluewater Grill owners James Ulcickas and Richard Staunton to develop a conceptual design for a new restaurant at the end of the pier.

The eatery would replace the two-story, city-owned restaurant building on their pier, which has been vacant since 2012. The building, which was built in the 1940s, has chipped wood, peeling paint, dry rot and water damage. Inside, the electrical system doesn’t work, and the kitchen is out of commission.

During a council study session last year, city staff said the building would have to be demolished, and the shell rebuilt, at a cost of about $1.4 million, if council members wanted the structure to again house a restaurant.

“After evaluating the existing structure and the underlying pier, it was determined the building is beyond its useful life, and its removal and replacement is the best economic option,” the staff report states. “Additionally, the restaurant demolition will allow for renovation of the pier directly beneath the building.”

Restaurant concepts have worked well on the Balboa Pier, where Ruby’s Diner has operated successfully for years, and at other piers throughout the state, according to a 122-page retail study prepared for Newport Beach by GRC Associates in 2013.

Of the five piers in Orange County, four have restaurant buildings at the end. The other, in San Clemente, has a restaurant at the entrance.

In 2014, Newport asked for proposals from restaurateurs looking to replace the building and operate a restaurant on the pier. Out of the three proposals received, city staff decided that Bluewater’s plan best met the city’s vision.

Bluewater operates a location on the Lido Peninsula.

“We still have a lot of unanswered questions,” said Assistant Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis. “What is the restaurant going to look like? How does it effect the existing pier? What are the costs?”

The agreement will allow the city and Bluewater Grill to answer the necessary questions before making a final recommendation to the City Council, Jurjis said.

The one-year agreement, which will involve design work and negotiation of a lease agreement, is estimated to cost $18,000. The city will pay half, and Bluewater Grill the other half.

Any proposed project or lease will have to go back to council for approval.