Getting to Knew the New NB Board of Realtors President
By Hayley Toler
An architect, developer and luxury real estate entrepreneur, Stephen Southerland has established himself as a real estate artist through his vast history of success and innovation which has landed him a newest job. Sutherland is now the president of the Newport Beach Board of Realtors, a responsibility he takes very seriously as his civic duty to guide his neighboring realtors to an educated political state. I sat with him at his Newport Beach office and interviewed him about his past, present and future in hopes of painting a picture of the man who has worked on luxury properties for the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Hilton, Hyatt, Westin and Regent Hotels around the globe and now will head the association of 1,700 realtors in Newport Beach.
What are the great things about Newport?
I’ve been here for 50 years so I remember when during a winter Friday night at around 8 o’clock in Newport, the sidewalks rolled up.
In the early ’60s, people were opposed to Fashion Island being developed. I had a friend in Dover Shores whose parents were adamantly opposed to Fashion Island and thought it was going to destroy their view. About two years after Fashion Island opened, they put their property on the market and one of the advertising points was that it had beautiful views of Fashion Island.
I’m a huge believer in property rights and private property rights. That’s one of the things I love about Newport is that is has have a beautiful new home and its next to this great cottage that was built in the ’30s or ’40s and I think they both belong.
What makes this area a great spot for luxury properties?
When you look at Newport you have the all the elements for a luxury property such as a home or resort. We have the ocean and miles of beautiful beaches and we have the bay, which is unique to have private yacht harbor such as we have in Newport. We have the hills, which surround much of Newport and provide beautiful views and vistas for luxury homes to be built. And thirdly, we have the airport, although the airport can easily become a huge negative for Newport Beach because of the noise.
But with the airport and the hills, yacht harbor, beaches, shopping, and the entertainment that is provided largely in Costa Mesa with the Segerstrom Hall, to me you have pretty much everything that a great luxury area would have. It’s pretty tough to beat anywhere in the world and I’ve lived many places in the world.
Tell me about your role in the development of the Marina Park on Balboa Peninsula?
The Marina Park was a hotel development that although it was known as Marina Park Resort, was actually to be the Regent Balboa Peninsula Resort. Regent, which is one of the top hotel companies in the world, were the flag and the management company and I was the owner, architect and developer of the project.
After six years of working on the project and working through city council, planning commission and community outreach, Newport Beach City Council decided that the Marina Park should go on the ballot in Newport Beach. It did and we lost the vote. So after six years of hard work, and quite a bit of time and money and heart and soul, voters in Newport Beach did not approve it.
Why do you think voters opposed it?
I think that it was my fault that it was defeated. The project actually was a very small and luxurious project that consisted of one to two stories. Everything was going to be open to the public, including the beach the tennis courts. It was a luxury yachting resort that would have operated very much like a yacht club with guest rooms. The only location where this particular concept of a yacht resort can work is here in Orange County. I just did not get the story out enough so that voters felt comfortable approving the project, so the only person to blame is me.
Do you plan on revisiting the development of the Marina Park?
From the very weeks after the vote, a large number of my main opponents approached me on the street and told me that if they had known then what they know now, they would have supported the project not opposed it. And as far as my going back, I don’t go back I always move forward. It was voted down and it is a part of my past but it will not be a part of my future. Although someday I would like to go there and enjoy the beach when the city finally carries out its plans for the ultimate use of that site.
Do you have any other upcoming development projects here in Orange County?
My business is real estate marketing and sales, so the only projects I get involved in are ones that are very special to me. I did the initial conceptual designs for a project off of Ortega Highway in Orange County called Beaulieu Farms. It is 600 acres and the concept is to create 60 10-acre home sites, each one with its own vineyard and olive groves so the owners can have their estate, private label wine bottles and private label pressed olive oil. Each estate will also have equestrian areas, ponds, a pool and equestrian areas. There will also be a small landing field, which will basically serve as a private airport for private aircraft and helicopter landing.
The concept is from a 900-year-old vineyard in the hills overlooking St. Tropez , France, that I used to spend some summers at a few years back. It’s an exciting project, because my core business is luxury marketing and sales.
I have a unique position with Prudential California. When I joined Prudential it was as the director of the Architectural collection, which is a luxury boutique division of prudential. Originally it was in partnership, and when the market changed a couple of years ago I ended up taking them out of the ownership. I now own the Architectural Collection. It operates under the umbrella of Prudential California Realty but it is a privately owned division. I’m the only agent in Prudential that owns his own division. The Architectural Collection concentrates on luxury properties almost exclusively on the coast of Orange County.
So you have been elected the president of the Board of Realtors this year, what does that entail for you?
Being the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors entails for me a responsibility to our members to see that the helm of association is steered in a way that benefits them.
My main objective for this year is to get our members involved in the association and help them understand the ramifications of various legislation, whether it is federal, state or local, and how it affects the realtor, their clients and the homeowners in Newport Beach.
Cal transfer, for example. What happens when a budget such as the one being proposed by the governor in California right now ends up requiring higher taxes and how does that affect the agent and the agent’s client? This I a very scary thought, and there have been some discussions about making up the shortfall in California’s budget.
This would not happen by raising property taxes, the state can’t do that because of Prop 13 without a supermajority vote by the Senate or a ballot measure that California voters would have to approve, but there is another way. A lot of municipalities and the state have been discussing adding fees onto homeowners, which may not be a property tax but what is a fee if it’s not a tax? They won’t call it a property tax but that is what it is. The homeowner pays the fees, and even in the case where someone is renting a home, they are the ones that pay the fees because a landlord is going to pass the fee through as an expense to their tenants. The ultimate payer is going to be the property owner or tenant.
My job is to help realtors become familiar with the facts of a certain bill and to understand on their own how it affects the economy and how that it real estate and eventually make their mind up how they are going to vote on it.