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A major project decades in the making finally had its public groundbreaking Friday, signaling to the county and to California that the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) truly means business regarding its long-planned move from Newport Beach to Costa Mesa.

About 200 people attended the late morning groundbreaking, which occurred at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, at the very spot adjacent to the 13-year old Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall that has long been set aside for an art museum. A massive hole in the ground proved to attendees that construction plans for the new museum are already well underway.

“It is the strongest indication of the future of this museum,” said Todd D. Smith, director and CEO of OCMA since 2014. “It is the moment that many have worked for, have hoped for, have spent sleepless nights thinking about. And people have been involved for 20 years, people have come on board in the last two months to support the project. There’s a feeling that this is the moment, and this is the project.”

Anton Segerstrom, son of the late Henry Segerstrom, who was founding chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center (now Segerstrom Center for the Arts), told the audience that the construction of an art museum had long been a wish and vision of his father, a leading figure in the local arts and business communities who died in February 2015.

“This is the final piece of that campus,” said Anton Segerstrom, partner at South Coast Plaza and C.J. Segerstrom & Sons.

Mark Perry, chairman of the board of Segerstrom Center, captured the feeling of onlookers and many involved in the project. “This is incredible,” he said. “You’re not dreaming.”

Mark Perry, Chairman of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts Board of Directors, speaks at the official groundbreaking of the Orange County Museum of Art’s new building. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

For the first time in years, OCMA revealed the exact price tag of the new museum: $73 million. Smith said the museum has already raised 65 percent of the campaign goal, or approximately $47.45 million. That means the museum still has about $25.55 million to raise.

“We are pleased with where we are at the moment,” Smith said. “To get to this point, without going public, without having a groundbreaking, is a real push for us.”

Smith added that the public phase of the capital campaign has officially kicked off with Friday’s groundbreaking.

What Will It Look Like?

An artist’s rendering of the view of the new OCMA building from the Julia and George Argyros Plaza of OCMA’s main entrance, located near Richard Serra’s monumental sculpture, “Connector.”
OCMA’s ground floor and mezzanine are designed to hold open, flexible galleries for permanent collection installations and temporary exhibitions.
Design for the roof terrace at OCMA.

The new museum, scheduled to open in 2021, is designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and his L.A.-based firm Morphosis.

The three-story building will be 53,000 square feet, with 25,000 square feet of exhibition space — about 50 percent more space than its former location had at 850 San Clemente Drive in Newport Center.

The museum will include exhibition galleries, a multi-purpose education hall, a roof terrace, event spaces, a museum store, a café and administrative and support spaces.

The exterior will feature undulating bands of ceramic tile paneling, a glazed curtain wall, exposed concrete, landscape on the roof terrace and plenty of open and public space.

“We’ve been working for 12 years on this project,” Mayne said during the groundbreaking ceremonies. “We’re going to move very quickly. This is a project that’s going to move at the speed of light.”

Mayne added, “It’s going to be very much about the public. It’s going to be a place for people to hang out and meet. We’re going to build a building and leave 80 percent of the site capacity for a plaza.”

At a lunch that followed the groundbreaking, Mayne said, “It’s kind of not a building. We’re building public space.”

The road toward constructing the new OCMA has been arduous. Renzo Piano was originally picked as the architect for a new home for the Newport Harbor Art Museum, as OCMA was then called, but that plan was scuttled.

In 2016, OCMA tried to sell its Newport Beach property to Related California, which proposed a high-rise condominium project called Museum House.

Local activists opposed that plan, and the city of Newport Beach was forced to revoke approval for the plan and settle two lawsuits related to the aborted sale.

OCMA wound up selling its Newport Beach property to Vivante Newport Center LLC, a subsidiary of Nexus Development Corp., a real estate developer with offices in Santa Ana and Phoenix.

The amount of that sale was $24 million, according to the Orange County Business Journal. The bulk of that money is expected to go toward construction costs for the new museum at Segerstrom Center.

While it waits for its new home to be built, OCMA is operating out of a temporary space in Santa Ana, across from South Coast Plaza, called OCMAExpand — Santa Ana.

The museum’s third season of six exhibitions opens Saturday.

Richard Chang is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC, focusing on the visual arts. He can be reached at richiechang@gmail.com.

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