O.C. Museum of Art’s relocation plan has many ends still loose

Todd Smith, director and chief executive of the Orange County Museum of Art, stands at the museum’s planned future site at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
Todd Smith, director and chief executive of the Orange County Museum of Art, stands at the museum’s planned future site at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
(File photo | Daily Pilot)

More than eight years after first announcing its intention to move from Newport Beach, much remains unsettled about the Orange County Museum of Art’s plans to build a new home in Costa Mesa.

Even as the original target date has come and gone, details such as the construction budget and design for the proposed new museum at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts have yet to be finalized.

The museum, commonly known as OCMA, also hasn’t submitted plans to the city of Costa Mesa for review, according to Todd Smith, museum director and chief executive.

“The museum continues to work with the architect on the details of the final design,” Smith wrote in a recent email.

The new building “will greatly enhance the museum’s ability to showcase its permanent collection and special exhibitions and serve the educational needs of students and adults alike,” he said.

In June 2008, OCMA announced its intent to pull up stakes from its longtime home at 850 San Clemente Drive in Newport Center. The same year, it engaged an architect to design the new facility.

At the time, officials said they had received legal title to a donated 1.64-acre parcel at the Segerstrom Center.

The agreement for the land originally required “the museum to break ground for the new facility no later than 2013 and to open the new museum by 2016,” according to an OCMA news release dated June 6, 2008.

The groundbreaking deadline was later pushed to June 2017, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. That report, in April 2015, said the cost of the new building was estimated at $50 million.

Smith said the construction budget is still being finalized.

He said the museum “continues to work toward the existing deadline,” but he wouldn’t say whether it’s possible to push it back if necessary.

“We are very pleased with the progress to date and will be able to unveil the new design in the new year,” Smith said.

Terry Dwyer, president of the Segerstrom Center, said in a statement that “the center continues to work with the museum to help make its move to Segerstrom Center for the Arts a success.”

“This will be an important expansion of the community’s cultural opportunities, and we look forward to welcoming them,” Dwyer said.

Whatever the final bill of the new museum, OCMA plans to use proceeds from the sale of its current 2-acre site to help cover the costs, Smith said. A fundraising campaign would follow the sale, he added.

OCMA has agreed to sell the land to developer Related California LLC, which plans to build a 25-story, 100-unit condominium tower called Museum House on the property.

Terms of the purchase have not been disclosed and the sale is still pending, with a controversy surrounding Related California’s project complicating matters.

The Newport Beach City Council approved Museum House late last month, but local activist group Line in the Sand has launched a referendum campaign seeking to overturn that decision.

Critics of the project have expressed worries about its possible effects on traffic and argued that the tower would set a precedent for more high-rise residences that could transform Newport Beach into something more resembling Los Angeles.

Project supporters and the developer, however, say the project fits the area, would have no significant effects on traffic and would benefit the city financially through additional taxes and fees.

Opponents need to submit at least 5,800 signatures from Newport voters by Dec. 29 to potentially bring the project to a public vote.

Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown said that if enough signatures are verified, she would “bring the matter to the City Council to determine the next steps.”

“If it does go before the voters, the city would call a special election and the date will need to be determined,” she said.

Smith said it’s encouraging that Newport city officials have supported the Museum House project and that OCMA hopes “the sale of the museum parcel to Related California will proceed.”

“We hope that residents who consider the facts of the proposed Museum House will conclude that the project should go ahead as approved by the elected City Council,” he said.

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