Fifteen years ago, the Dana Point Times highlighted changes to come in the city’s Town Center, as the Town Center Plan was being drafted, and then adopted just four months later.

Since that cover story was published in the DP Times’ first edition in 2008, empty lots have been transformed into mixed-use developments, housing many local businesses.

While construction is still underway on several projects in the Town Center, city officials and business owners are reflecting on the process of turning Del Prado into a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.


Before the city underwent efforts to revitalize the Town Center, the area was underutilized, former Dana Point Councilmember Joel Bishop said.

“We saw that the Town Center was kind of an underutilized asset,” Bishop said. “The traffic was poorly managed, having two one-way streets. People drove through very quickly and nobody stopped in Dana Point; they were just going through to get to the freeway from Laguna Beach.”

The goal of the Town Center Plan aimed to create an attractive, pedestrian-friendly “live, work and play” neighborhood, Bishop said.

The first big step in redeveloping the area was to develop Del Prado Avenue into a two-way street.

“By doing that, they provided a safe venue for community events on Del Prado,” Bishop said. “Because we used to have to close down PCH to have parades, but now we can have PCH open and Del Prado can be a venue for events, which is nice.”

Now, events hosted on Del Prado—including the Dana Point ArtFest, REDO Vintage & Maker’s Market, the Classic Car Show and Sleigh the Holidays—bring more and more visitors to the corridor each year.

The Dana Point City Council approved plans in 2006 for the Town Center revitalization plan, an effort to turn Del Prado Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly corridor. In 2008, the California Coastal Commission approved the project plans, with construction beginning in late 2013.

That same year, Pascal Le Vettet, owner of Bonjour Cafe on Del Prado, stated that the Town Center Plan “should’ve happened 20 years ago.”

Fifteen years later, Le Vettet maintains this opinion.

Before the efforts to revitalize the Town Center, Le Vettet said the area was not the magnet it is now. When he opened Bonjour Cafe in 1992, he saw potential in the area.

“I saw, on my first visit when I came to see my space, I saw that the street was not pedestrian-friendly, was not business-friendly, but I looked over that, knowing that Dana Point and the population, the demography, the pluses were all there, kind of encouraging me to give it a try,” Le Vettet said.

As new development plans got approved, Bishop added that “some people had heartburn about the heights. I think we’ve done a good deal of work and compromise on maintaining a height limit that came out nice.”

“It’s not going to look like New York City when it’s done, but it’s going to be a nice little community within Dana Point, and I think it worked,” Bishop continued.

Drafting the Town Center Plan was a “hard task, and it took a lot of people, and there was a lot of discussion and a lot of heated debate among council,” Bishop said. “But part of debate is compromise, and that compromise kept it to a scale that was appropriate.”


The other hurdle in the redevelopment efforts was the need for more parking.

As DP Times previously reported in 2008, resident Bob Theel announced his plans to develop the vacant lot on the corner of Old Golden Lantern and Del Prado, envisioning a 40-foot-high, three-story building with retail on the first floor and residential housing on the second and third level.

At the time, Theel said, “Over the next four to five years, you’re going to see commercial spaces that will serve the residents and create places where you can go downtown.”

In 2023, the lot remains undeveloped, though in late-March 2022, entitlements for a mixed-use condominium development were approved in the space.

“When I said that a lot would evolve in four-to-five years, I think that was optimistic,” Theel said this week. “A number of market events took place soon after the Town Center Plan was adopted—that was in 2008—and we had the recession.”

“Then we had, I believe, the Raintree project being considered and developed, and that generated a lot of resentment from residents who were probably not aware of the concept of the Town Center Plan, and they reacted negatively to three-story buildings,” Theel continued.

Out of that resentment, Theel said, Measure H was born. In 2015, ballot Measure H, or the Town Center Initiative, passed, adding a 40-foot or three-story building height maximum, and added an in-lieu fee for parking at a minimum of $40,000 per parking space.

“It made the Town Center Plan much more difficult to design a project for the Town Center,” Theel said. “But as it turns out, a number of years passed, and one other project was approved at the corner of PCH and Golden Lantern.”

“I think so far, with the Raintree project being completed and a few other projects in the pipeline in and around the Raintree project, including the Brattle Street project, people will start to appreciate and get more enthusiastic about continuing development in the Town Center,” Theel continued.

However, the Brattle Street Development will go on without Theel, he said. The project will be constructed by C3 Development after Theel sold the property. C3 Development is in the process of getting construction documents and building permits completed, Theel said.

In 2014, City Council approved a mixed-use development on Del Prado, which was originated by Majestic Housing and later acquired by Raintree Partners.

Raintree Partners purchased the development in late 2016, changing the project from condominiums to rental units.

“We saw this location as a location that we as a firm really believed in; we really wanted to be a part of that community,” said Allen Chuang, Raintree Partners vice president of development and director of retail leasing.

By 2015, the city completed construction on Del Prado Avenue and opened the street to two-way traffic—a milestone in the revitalization plan.

In 2016, the Dana Point Planning Commission approved plans for a mixed-use development on the corner of PCH and Golden Lantern. The project is still under construction.

Since construction completed on the Prado West development, Rip Curl, YogaSix, Lost Winds Dive Shop, Bear Coast Coffee and Dana Point Ale House have opened in the mixed-use space.

The Prado West development has brought vibrancy to the area, Chuang said.

“We really feel like there’s a lot of renewed energy within Prado West,” Chuang said. “You see familiar faces walking around, everyone’s enjoying themselves, and lots of folks constantly poking their head into retail spaces that are under construction asking about updates.”

“We’re very happy to bring this element to the Town Center, and we are priding ourselves with being one of the main focal points within the Town Center,” Chuang continued.

Mayor Mike Frost said the most notable change over the years is that Del Prado has become a more pedestrian-friendly area.

“It was really drafted in the plan that the committee came up with so many years ago,” Frost said. “They envisioned a sort of walking, vibrant area that was more pedestrian-friendly that also allows small businesses to flourish, and I think you’re beginning to see that.”

With several empty lots still undeveloped in the Town Center, Frost would like to see the smaller lots be developed.

“I think that would be my personal goal—less consolidation of lots and the ability for people to be successful on the smaller lots,” Frost said. “And to help support this concept of incremental growth, which is really tough.”

Despite the 2008 recession, “one-by-one, bit-by-bit, the buildings have gone up” in the Town Center, former Councilmember Diane Harkey said.

Now, Harkey believes we’re in another recession, and expects development to slow down in the Town Center.

“I’d expect things to probably slow there just a little bit and then pick up again,” Harkey said. “COVID had a big impact and the shutdowns, and also just the inflation and interest rates rising. But we’ll probably see a lot more as time goes on.”

Harkey added that she imagined the development to be a bit more “homestyle, a little bit funky feeling,” more in line with the Winklers’ development.

“But I think it’s worked out well,” Harkey said. “I would like to see condos instead of apartments there, but I think it’s worked out pretty well.”

Development on Del Prado over the years has been exactly “very much in line with what I was envisioning,” Bishop said.

Bishop added that as a member of the Dana Point Historical Society’s governing board, it was important to maintain historic features in the Town Center Plan. The Coastal Kitchen is a great example of renovating a historic structure for a modern use.

“When they brought in the new restaurant there, they did a lot of work just to maintain the historical perspective of that building,” Bishop said. “It showed that it can be done nicely and still be a functional, new feature.”

A similar example of renovating a historic structure is the Winklers’ development of the former Dana Point Hotel into new apartments.

Renovations on the site are expected to be completed within the next 8-10 months, President of Development Eric Winkler said.

“I believe restoring original buildings creates a unique balance between growth and preserving history,” Winkler said in an email. “By preserving historic character while incorporating modern amenities and technologies, the Town Center of Del Prado can attract visitors, boost the economy, and foster a sense of community.

“In the future, I hope to see Del Prado thrive with a mix of new development and preserved buildings, where the community values its authenticity and embraces growth.” Winkler continued. “The goal is for it to be a thriving hub for commerce, community, and culture.”

The project will build a total of 23 apartment units, will continue to house Jack’s Restaurant and will become home to an interior design store, HŌM.

Truly Pizza, a new restaurant located on Del Prado, is expected to open this spring, offering artisan pizza, charcuterie, wine and beer.

“Our intention is not only to provide great food and service but also become a gathering place for neighbors, friends, family and visitors who share a love for Dana Point,” Head Pizzaiolo and restaurant partner John Arena said in an email. “We believe that the Lantern District will become a premier residential, dining and leisure destination that will showcase the coastal California lifestyle.”


As a 25-year business owner on Del Prado, Jack Loconsolo of Jack’s Restaurant said the change to Del Prado allowing two-way traffic, coupled with downtown residential living, has brought increased foot traffic to businesses in the Town Center.

“Loyal support of our local community has brought tremendous change,” Loconsolo said in an email. “We are now seeing an uptick in the preferred destination for hotel guests while high-quality outdoor markets continue to be a strength.”

Longtime Dana Point resident Christian Goodman said the city is unrecognizable compared to what it looked like 30 years ago.

“A revamp of the city has occurred and, personally, I’m extremely excited about it,” Goodman said. “I think that change is inevitable, and we need to embrace it.”

Goodman, who opened the Dana Point Ale House in late-March 2022 in the Prado West development, said he’s honored to be a part of the revitalized Town Center.

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to give back to the community that’s given me so much, and I’m extremely excited to have my first business and hopefully the first of many in Dana Point,” Goodman said.

“I think a lot of people think that tourism drives Dana Point, but it’s the exact opposite,” Goodman continued. “It’s the locals. And my biggest hope is that we continue to support locally owned businesses, mom-and-pop shops, be Bonjour Cafés, the Killer Danas, Jack’s, Lucianas. That, to me, is what makes Dana Point special.”

The next business expected to open in Prado West is Penelope Pots, a “green boutique” offering flowers, plants, jewelry, accessories and more. Raintree Partners aims to have Penelope Pots open before Valentine’s Day.

Clean Juice, Homeslice, Maison and Avec Moi are expected to open in the Prado West development this coming spring.