It was an iconic company among general contractors and its rise marked a pivot point in Santa Barbara’s emergence as a hub for tourism and technology in the 1990s.
Ugo Melchiori, an immigrant from Northern Italy, turned skills as a craftsman into a business that, beginning in the late 1980s, was nearly as powerful as its frequent partner, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust.
Melchiori had a gift for creating joint ventures with larger firms, helping companies from Los Angeles and New York navigate the region’s restrictive zoning rules, design standards and narrow streets. The Four Seasons Biltmore Resort, the former SBB&T headquarters, the Fidelity National Financial headquarters, the Granada Theatre and the Canary Hotel are all testaments to his company’s capabilities.
In its heyday, the Melchiori Construction headquarters at 809 De La Vina St. was a temple built to honor a company that by 2001 was ranked No. 1 on the Business Times list of general contractors.
The elder Melchiori died in 2009 and left the company in the seemingly capable hands of his son Mark. Better educated, schooled in business and having worked closely with his dad for more than a decade, Mark seemed ready to take Melchiori to the next level.
But that was not to be. The collapse of the commercial real estate market and a lengthy dispute over the Chapala One project in Santa Barbara led to financial difficulties. A series of problems with paying subcontractors at Santa Barbara County’s new operations center hurt the company’s reputation.
A relatively small project at UC Santa Barbara – a $6.5 million Ocean Sciences building – led to so many disputes with subcontractors over payments that the company was terminated. SBB&T sued to collect a $9 million debt and the company filed for bankruptcy.
As Staff Writer Alex Kacik writes in the current edition of the Business Times, on June 2 the Santa Barbara County District Attorney filed a 47-count complaint against Mark Melchiori alleging fraud and illegal diversion of funds.
From lofty heights of the 1990s go-go decade, Melchiori Construction became another tale of business success turned into failure. Other family dynasties, Schipper, McCarthy and Diani continue to thrive in the construction business. Melchiori’s iconic buildings remain but it’s a terrible loss.
Focus on the victims of violence
Eventually we’ll hear the story of Mainak Sarkar, the deeply disturbed post-doctoral student who killed himself after murdering his ex-wife and UCLA professor Michael Klug.
But for now, the focus is squarely where it should be — on the victims. Klug, a Westmont College alum from 1997, had distinguished himself in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
A dad, a role model to others, and a participant in Westmont events, he was an example of what the college’s graduates could become as it expanded its curriculum. As President Gayle Beebe noted, Klug’s wife, Mary Elise, was also a Westmont graduate.
The outpouring of sympathy for the victims is notable and perhaps we are witnessing a change in society. By focusing on the victims of gun violence, rather than the perpetrators, we deprive them of the fame-seeking aspect of all this madness. And that’s a good place to start.