Lease deal approved as Laguna Niguel again looks to convert a long-vacant courthouse into the city’s downtown

by in News

The county is ready to let go of its old courthouse property in Laguna Niguel, which city leaders hope will become the heart of the city’s downtown.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors agreed last week to a lease deal that could result in a $210 million mixed-use development, with a big food hall, commercial and retail space and housing replacing the long-vacant South County Justice Center at Alicia and Crown Valley parkways. City leaders still have to sign off on the developers’ vision.

The deal is with real estate firms Burnham-Ward Properties and Sares-Regis Group to redevelop the county-owned 24-acre parcel, which also includes a county library and a maintenance yard. The project is being called the Laguna Niguel Town Center.

Laguna Niguel leaders for decades have eyed the location as a home for the city’s downtown – the discussions intensified after the courthouse closed in 2008. The city even built its City Hall next door in 2011.

“Laguna Niguel has been waiting patiently,” Mayor John Mark Jennings said. “Laguna Niguel has always wanted and deserved downtown. This project goes a long way in filing that goal.”

The developers are proposing more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space, 138,000 square feet of retail space, a 20,400-square-feet food hall, a 12,000-square-feet specialty market and a 7,500-square-feet restaurant, according to county staffers.

The developers also propose to relocate the county library toward the middle of the parcel, which they would pay for.

But parts of the project have yet to be fleshed out, including the number or exact types of housing units that will be proposed. Those things would still have to be approved by the City Council.

When the city last discussed the property in 2017, council members were expecting about 200 units of housing in the site.

That remains a “fair starting point,” Jennings said.

The city plans to hold a public workshop this summer for the developer to get feedback from the community.

Several proposals have been submitted to redevelop the property, including one from Costa Mesa-based Lab Holding that gained traction for creating a dining and entertainment district at the site.

The deal between the county and Lab Holding fell apart in 2017. The developer sued the county last year, saying in its complaint that the county negotiated in bad faith and unilaterally terminated the agreement. The county had said it wanted the developer to offer a project completion guarantee, which Lab Holding refused to do.

The lawsuit remains in Orange County Superior Court, but the project is allowed by the court to go forward as it is, county spokeswoman Molly Nichelson said in an e-mail.