Los Angeles real estate magnate Rick Caruso is amending his plans for the multimillion-dollar revival of Miramar Beach Resort & Bungalows in Montecito to include a little more shrinkage.
Caruso Affiliated received approval for the hotel in March 2011 after a years-long hearing process in which Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a neighbor of the project, asked county regulators to require some “shrinkage,” a reference to a well-known joke on the show. On Thursday, Caruso submitted an even more scaled-back proposal seeking an amendment to the project.
“The real estate and financial markets have steadily improved, and we have remained committed to this project throughout one of the most challenging economic times imagined,” Rick Caruso, founder and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be working with renowned Santa Barbara architect Marc Appleton, and his more intimate design will tie characteristics of the old Miramar with a new paradigm for hospitality.”
Any forward action on the property is a welcome sign for a community that’s played audience to a protracted tennis match between Caruso and the county over a proposed-but-later-scuttled hotel incentive program that would have kicked as much as 70 percent of the bed tax generated by the development back to Caruso’s firm. The result of that battle was residents having to wait roughly five years before the decaying structures on the site were razed in late 2012.
“This is just them going through the process to modify and amend the last approved project so they can move forward with financing,” said Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal. “In terms of the [bed tax], that’s come and gone and not an issue anymore. They didn’t pursue what the county was offering and decided it wasn’t in their best interest.”
The development struggled to make sense financially for Caruso’s firm through the recession and the focus shifted to other projects.
But with the market for hospitality development on an upswing, the incentive program was no longer necessary to get the ball rolling on construction, said Matt Middlebrook, senior vice president of development for Caruso Affiliated.
“It’s a much more efficient plan now,” Middlebrook said of the designs. “We’re hoping that with this plan approved, we can move straight into construction and open in the summer of 2017.”
Whether the hotel will be independently operated or not is still uncertain, he said.
Set on 15.7 acres, the project is smaller in its design from the original plans, but there is nothing miniscule about it.
• Guestrooms and suites: Previously planned for 186 rooms, the new design will accommodate 170 guestrooms, including 27 oceanfront rooms and suites, among them a freestanding 3,800-square-foot presidential suite. Plans also include a members-only club located on the property grounds.
• Oceanfront restaurant: An oceanfront restaurant has been added to the new design, which will provide guests views of the Pacific Ocean with public beach access.
• Main building: Modeled after a historic estate, the main building will incorporate a lobby, bar and lounge, ballroom and meeting rooms, and premier ocean- and mountain-view suites on the second level. Under the new plan, a casual all-day-dining poolside restaurant, as well as a destination spa and fitness center, will be in the main building.
• Parking: The project also includes 68 new public parking stalls along Jameson and Eucalyptus lanes to enhance public beach access.
“The original Miramar Beach Hotel stood out as a jewel in the community, dating back nearly to the birth of California as a state,” Marc Appleton, principal and founder of architecture firm Appleton & Associates said in a statement. “It is a great honor to help bring this cherished property, missing for the last 15 years, back to life again for our community.”
Hotel market on the upswing
The hotel market is very healthy, said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of hospitality data and consulting firm PKF Consulting USA in Los Angeles.
“[The market] has been in an up-curve since 2010, and it’s back to pre-recession levels,” he said. “There’s not a huge amount of supply, and especially not a lot of ocean parcels available for the foreseeable future, which means we should continue to see growth. There will be a downturn sometime in the future, but we don’t know when that might happen.”
While the county pores over the new project and the community anticipates more new construction the limited water supply has raised concerns.
“There’s at least one issue we’ll likely address, and that’s the idea of developing a big new campus in a drought,” said Anne Almy, supervising planner for the county. “We might be looking at establishing a more drought-tolerable landscape palate.”
In response to water concerns, Middlebrook at Caruso Affiliated said the project isn’t going to open for three years and that hopefully California’s water conditions will have improved by then.
“The Miramar property has been one of longest-term customers of the water district,” he said. “We’ve had the needs of the development certified under previous plans and we expect that commitment to continue.”