The following is a story by Inside OC, a Voice of OC broadcast media partner covering Orange County newsmakers.
Developer Mike Harrah says the tallest building in Orange County is just months away and a second major project for Santa Ana will follow.
“We’re looking at probably breaking ground before the end of this year,” Harrah said of One Broadway Plaza, the 37-story office tower that he has been touting for 15 years as the catalyst for a renaissance in downtown Santa Ana.
Harrah, speaking on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs show, said after years of economic and procedural hurdles he has all of the required permits and entitlements and is in lease negotiations with two potential anchor tenants, both technology companies.
One Broadway has been challenged by critics who say it is out of character with the rest of the city center. Harrah won a voter referendum on the project in 2005 but skepticism has persisted.
Harrah said the naysayers are about to be proven wrong: “And it’ll be a very glorious day for that, thank you, Jesus.”
Harrah said One Broadway will bring about 2,000 well-paid workers to the city: “They will buy homes, they will visit the restaurants, the shops, the stores, the downtown, and my big push now is a total urbanization of Santa Ana.”
Harrah is now touting a second major project, on the site of the Orange County Register off the 5 freeway. Harrah says he envisions “a couple of 10-story to 30-story buildings” in a redevelopment that would include “creative” office space, a hotel, shopping center and about 1,800 apartment units.
“Actually it’s getting more attention right now than One Broadway is,” he said.
Harrah acquired the Register building in 2014 in a leaseback deal, and the paper’s new owner, Digital First Media, earlier this year flipped him the surrounding 14 acres, including the printing plant.
Digital First has been preparing to move the Register’s offices, including the editorial department, to a new location. It continues to lease the printing plant, although Harrah has said he would like to put Digital into a new printing facility elsewhere in the city as part of his makeover of the Register site.
Harrah said he is talking with KDOC-TV, which has its studio on the first floor of the Register building, about remaining as part of a “mega-media center.” He said he is also talking with schools and tech companies.
He said because of the entitlement process, any construction at the Register site is probably three years away.
Harrah is the biggest landlord in downtown Santa Ana. He said he has owned and operated five million square feet of real estate in the city and currently operates about three million, most of it leased to government entities, including the district attorney’s office and health agencies.
He kidded about the Orange County Business Journal’s recent estimate that he’s worth $250 million: “According to my wife it’s a little low … According to me it’s okay.”
The bearded, 6-foot-6 “Big Mike” also discussed his daredevil lifestyle, which includes racing cars, boats and motorcycles and performing as a Hollywood stunt pilot.
The Harrah interview is airing this week on PBS SoCal and Cox. All showtimes are listed at www.rickreiff.com. The show and post-show “Open Mic” segment are also on YouTube.