A year after 35 State Street Hotel Partners took over the long-dormant La Entrada project on the waterfront end of Santa Barbara’s State Street, plans to jolt the hotel back to life are right on schedule.
The hotel partnership, led by Michael Rosenfeld of Los Angeles-based investment and development company Next Century Associates, bought the historic Hotel Californian and two neighboring plots of land for an undisclosed amount in January 2011. At the time, Rosenfeld said he was excited to revitalize the parcels, prime Santa Barbara real estate that have been home to a shuttered hotel and an empty dirt lot for more than a decade.
Doug Fell, a Santa Barbara land use attorney who has represented the project’s last three owners, told the Business Times the hotel partnership is on track to meet planning and construction deadlines set by the city.
“It doesn’t look like we’ve done anything, but we’ve done a lot,” Fell said. “There’s no question that we’re on schedule.”
Though very little visual progress has been made — the 2.4-acre site still consists of a decaying hotel across the street from a hole in the ground — Santa Barbara’s assistant city administrator, Paul Casey, said the developer is making progress with paperwork and permits.
“The ball is totally in their court. They have certain dates and milestones they need to meet to keep the project going forward,” Casey said. To keep construction and development permits from expiring, Rosenfeld must start making public improvements to the property this fall and start construction a year after that. “They’ve met every requirement so far, and we have no reason to believe they won’t continue to do so.”
One of those requirements is the so-called substantial conformity determination, a process where the city’s Planning Commission decides whether the new owner’s architecture and construction plans adhere to the previous plans.
Rosenfeld, along with his development team and architecture company, DesignARC in Santa Barbara, altered the original blueprints of the La Entrada project and submitted the substantial conformity determination application to the Planning Commission earlier this year. Because the new plans are different in size and appearance from the originals, the city granted the team more time to reconfigure the project, Fell said.
The home of the future La Entrada, which is currently zoned for a 123-room hotel and about 20,000 square feet of retail space, has changed hands three times over the last decade. Each developer had visions of a hotel or condominium project, but none of the previous owners or developers got plans off the ground.
The original developer behind the La Entrada project was developer Bill Levy, who submitted plans for a 62-unit timeshare condominium building to the city back in 2001. The plan was to remodel the old Hotel Californian and build an addition to it across State Street, using $25 million in loans from Mountain Funding Santa Barbara to start the project.
But after the Planning Commission approved the project, the site remained undeveloped. Levy declared bankruptcy in 2006, and Mountain Funding acquired the property through the court in March 2007.
The real estate lender submitted its own design plans in the summer of 2009. The revised blueprints mostly did away with Levy’s plan for luxury timeshare units — they called for 123 hotel rooms, nine of which still had the options of becoming timeshares. They also included about 20,000 square feel of retail space, a parking lot and an underground parking garage.
Fell said Levy’s plans called for tall, imposing buildings, while the new approach is centered around low-slung buildings and an open-air plaza.
When Rosenfeld purchased the project, it was listed for $8 million, according to Radius Group, which represented the seller. At the time, the assessed value of the three parcels was $17 million, according to county property tax records.
By January 2011, the city had approved the lender’s plans, but nothing had been built. Rosenfeld’s firm, an affiliate of Woodbridge Capital Partners, bought the land and began cleaning up the sites.
Fell said designing and eventually building La Entrada will be a two or three-phase project. Portions of the hotel and retail center will open as they’re completed.
“Once we get one part finished, we don’t want it to just sit there,” Fell said.
The portion that’s referred to as “Area C” sits between Hotel Californian and the train station parking lot. Fell said he thinks that building will open first because it houses the underground parking lot. “After that, it’ll probably be Hotel Californian, because it has special appeal,” he said. “But that’s a business decision that hasn’t been made.”
One of La Entrada’s neighbors is Hotel Indigo, a hotel at 121 State Street that’s set to open Feb. 14. Judy Ricker, one of the property’s managers, said she hopes the La Entrada project will get moving.
Ricker said Hotel Indigo plans on business being slow for the first few years because it will be surrounded by construction. But once La Entrada opens, she said, the large hotel should play a big part in revitalizing lower State Street.