Planning Commission approves Ritz-Carlton Residences to adjoin VEA Newport Beach


The Newport Beach Planning Commission made some landmark tourism history last night and this is truly a huge deal even if you aren’t in the local hospitality industry.

Here’s why: The commission signed off on the Ritz-Carlton Residences which will be built next to the soon to be completed VEA Newport Beach, formerly called the Marriott (which technically it still is).

What’s interesting is that the 22-story Ritz will be residential only, meaning it won’t be used for visitor stays. But that point doesn’t negate the importance of the development, which is incredibly significant.

First is the fact that the posh Ritz-Carlton brand will have a presence in our community. Just seeing that famous logo on a sign as you drive by adds to the upscale nature of Newport Beach. But perhaps even more importantly, this project is connected to VEA with a vision to become one integrated luxury campus. That means that the Ritz will drive business to VEA as residents dine, drink and use the hotel facilities. Maybe they will also bring a meeting here.

Gary Sherwin

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

VEA was built with the expectation that the Ritz would be built at some point, so the hotel’s design, amenities and service standards will be fully complementary to the Ritz. Instead of just getting a refreshed hotel, Newport Beach-based Eagle Four and Lyon Living, the property’s owners, went the extra mile to create a much better experience than what would have been created without the Ritz.

VEA will now have approximately 132 rooms less than the former Marriott, “rightsizing it,” as the owners call it, given the available meeting room space. A three-story tower on the property near self-parking will be demolished and serve as the Ritz’s new location.

Prior to Eagle Four and Lyon Living buying the property in 2020, HOST, the Marriott’s prior owner, planned a $30 million renovation. It would have been a nice, somewhat conventional, updating of the property. But when it was sold, the new owners didn’t feel it was enough and invested more than twice that sum to literally reinvent it.

It’s also important to note that although Marriott’s name is not quite as prominent as it was before on VEA, the entire property will still be managed by the company since it is one campus. VEA was deliberately designed to give it a somewhat independent resort feel, but it is a Marriott through and through. Now the world’s largest hotel company, Marriott owns the Ritz-Carlton brand and is very protective of its brand assets. 

The company has had a strong influence on the VEA’s and the Ritz hotel-branded residential design and operation and perhaps most significantly, the entire campus will be overseen by Debbie Snavely, the longtime general manager and former Newport Beach Citizen of the Year. Debbie and her husband Ned, now retired, are longtime Marriott associates and literally bleed the brand.

VEA’s unofficial coming out party will be the Mayor’s Dinner next Thursday night when the city’s most influential citizens will come together to hear Kevin Muldoon give his State of the City address. Kevin will have a chance to talk about the city’s financial success during the pandemic and what better way than to give the speech in a place that would have never been built had the pandemic not happened.

As the story goes, Eagle Four partners Kevin Martin and Todd Pickup were on the front nine of the Newport Beach Country Club one day in mid 2020 and looked up and imagined owning the hotel. An unsolicited offer was made, accepted and a new vision was developed that went far beyond what HOST had planned. That’s the value of local ownership.

So, the local tourism industry wins big time by having a better-quality hotel product with VEA and the Ritz-Carlton will bring the halo of a world-class luxury brand to the city.

That’s pretty cool stuff. But what is particularly noteworthy about this project is that its impact goes beyond just tourism. This is a big deal for every resident in the city.

As covered by Tom Johnson last week, the Ritz project has been blessed by SPON (Still Protecting Our Newport) which given the scope of a project like this might be surprising. That is until you know that it includes the creation of a private, non-profit housing fund. Ask almost anyone at City Hall, and you’ll hear that perhaps the city’s biggest current challenge is to fulfill the new state mandated dwelling units for affordable housing.

Much of the talk locally has been to chop up residential lots to accommodate them or build another 11,000 to 25,000 new homes to pay for the affordable units. The great news is that the creation of this private non-profit housing trust fund will allow the city to focus on affordable housing only, and not building so many new units so we could meet the mandated 4,845-unit number. 

This amazingly creative approach will not only bring quality residential and enhanced hotel product to the city, but also help solve a huge issue that has perplexed city leaders for a couple of years now. 

Congratulations to the leaders of SPON, Jean Watt, Charles Klobe and Nancy Scarbrough for their open mindedness and working with Eagle Four’s Kory Kramer and Lyon Living’s Peter Zak to create a true win-win. Councilwoman Joy Brenner also played a big role too.

Literally everyone in the city benefits in this deal, even if you never go near the Ritz when it is completed sometime in 2025. 

And maybe the best thing of all is that this deal gives you hope that even in this polarized era, good things can still get done.

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.