Byline: Taylor Hill
NEWPORT BEACH — A 900-square-foot showroom at the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum is now open to the public, providing a glimpse into the future plans for the museum, known as ExplorOcean.
The proposed $35 million project was unveiled during the museum’s 25th anniversary celebration, where honorary chairman and Five Dives expedition leader Chris Welsh spoke about the proposed changes coming to Newport Harbor’s iconic Balboa Fun Zone area on the Balboa Peninsula.
“There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of interesting exploration,” said Welsh, who will participate in a series of submarine dives to the deepest points of the world’s oceans. “To now have a home for that exploration is very exciting.”
Replacing the current 34,000-square-foot Fun Zone and museum complex will be a 60-foot-high, 40,000-square-foot building with 1,000 linear feet of dock space and a new “Adventure Pier.”
The museum’s main attraction will be a “4-D” sensory theater developed by the Hettama Group, which specializes in immersive theater experiences — including the ride/movie experience at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, called “Beyond All Boundaries.”
For ExplorOcean, the theater experience will give museum-goers the feeling of traveling on a three-masted sailing vessel, diving the ocean’s depths and embarking on an exploratory mission to arctic glaciers. According to plans, the theater will include ship-shaped seating, motion hydraulics, the “smell” of the ocean and a 360-degree screen that will encircle viewers.
Other attractions depicted in the preview center include kid-friendly marine life touch pools, a sailing ship for kids to climb aboard, remote-controlled submersibles, a new Ferris wheel along the waterfront Adventure Pier, and dock space capable of accommodating a historic tall ship. Patio spaces and a restaurant are included in the building plans — and they will be housed under a solar-paneled roof.
The unveiling effectively signals the end of the historic and tourist-friendly Balboa Fun Zone. Since the museum’s purchase of the property in 2006, the Fun Zone has had many of its attractions removed — including the bumper cars, the Dark and Scary Ride and, most recently, the carousel.
“We’re celebrating 25 years of the museum’s rich heritage, but at the same time we’re here to combine elements of the 75-year legacy of the Fun Zone, and also show everybody what we’ve been up to,” museum chairman Tom Pollack said. “ExplorOcean is going to be a world-class attraction. It’s something the community can be proud of and everybody can participate in.”
The plans, developed by architecture firm LPA Inc. and the Hettama Group, are the third set released by the museum in the last five years. Millions of dollars in funding will be required to see the plans through to fruition.
ExplorOcean is looking beyond regular museum member contributions for fundraising, acquiring sponsorships from South Coast Plaza, Bank of America and Ventas Inc. Other revenue-building ventures at the museum include two new restaurants and a gift shop to be located on the premises, along with plans to rent space for private parties along the property waterfront for events.