The new City Hall lights up the darkness in Newport Beach at its new location on Avocado and Farallon. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot / December 11, 2012)

"We don't want to be tearing this down in 50 years," he said.

Of course, the Civic Center was a divisive topic even among council members. More specifically, Badum said, where to put the thing was what generated the most debate.

Selich said he initially was against the idea of building a city hall in the area along Avocado just north of the city's Central Library, because that area had been slated to be a park.

Building there also required that the city spend $7.5 million to excavate about 300,000 cubic yards of dirt from the site and build a retaining wall.

Selich said that he had advocated for building a less elaborate city hall in Newport Center in a space rented from the Irvine Co. Local activists, meanwhile, wanted to preserve the planned park land.

On the other side, Councilwoman Leslie Daigle wrote in an email, the library expansion and parks were "additional components to the project of public value," which she supported. She said she was also in favor of having a more "centrally located" city hall.

The issue came to a head with 2008's Measure B, which put the move to the Avocado site before voters.

The measure passed with 53% but was challenged in court. Ultimately it was upheld, and plans for the Civic Center moved forward.

Badum said the measure's passage sent a strong message.

"People said we want something better," he said.

Selich and others said that once the measure passed, council members who had disagreed fell in line behind the project.

Tuesday night, council members' friends and family, along with other well-wishing residents, filled much of City Hall as newly elected Councilman Tony Petros was sworn in to replace Rosansky, who was termed out.

Rosansky, who has been one of the project's most outspoken proponents, said in an emotional farewell speech that it had been his long-standing goal to sit on the new dais at least once before he left office.

"At times, I didn't think it would happen," he said.

After the meeting, guests filtered into the new community room, which looked like a cross between a particularly spotless airplane hangar and a brightly lit classic car showroom.

They grabbed cookies and coffee and admired the new buildings.

Kelly Hacker, a lifelong Newport resident, brought her service dog, a Maltese-Yorkie mix named Winnie, to check out the new chambers.

Hacker, 53, said she's most excited to let Winnie run around at the new dog park when it's finished, but the city was "long overdue" for a new city hall.

"I'm so impressed," she said.