When Rick Caruso took over the moribund Miramar Hotel project in South Santa Barbara County a couple of years ago, few people gave him a chance of ever getting a building permit.
But Caruso, recently named the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Hall of Fame winner for 2009, patiently chipped away at the massive undertaking.
Opposition from Hollywood stars and threats from wealthy Montecito plutocrats didn’t faze him. Instead he quietly and deftly maneuvered his plan through neighborhood groups, county planning departments and the Board of Supervisors.
Caruso finally cleared the last bureaucratic hurdle to his project in early April, when a lawsuit opposing the Miramar on environmental grounds was dropped amid a sealed settlement. Nobody is talking on the record, but a statement says that among the concessions, Caruso will help clean up Oak Creek.
The curious thing about the Miramar is that had Caruso cleared these hurdles six months or a year ago, the project would have run headlong into the global credit crunch.
Now, Caruso and his Miramar project have become a different sort of barometer. Instead of being a test for the political will of the powers that be in Santa Barbara, it is now a test for the financial markets.
Raising the money to actually build the 192-room hotel will be an indication that the freeze that brought the global economy to a standstill last fall has begun to thaw.