You might call it “Rick Caruso moment, take two.”
A couple of years ago I coined the phrase “Rick Caruso moment” to describe the curious phenomenon on the Central Coast where projects don’t really begin – they just move forward on their own momentum after the last opponents fade away.
Such was the case, I argued, with legendary Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso’s decade-long quest to build a new hotel on the long-abandoned Miramar property near the San Ysidro Road exit on Highway 101 in Montecito.
But on Oct. 10, there was Caruso, his irreplaceable community affairs guru Rick Lemmo and the top brass from Rosewood Hotel Group to turn a ceremonial shovelful of dirt at the 16-acre site and, as Pink might have put it, get the party started.
Under a blue sky broken by a few puffy white clouds, Caruso, Rosewood CEO Radha Arora and newly named General Manager Luigi Romaniello posed for photos as the countdown to an expected summer 2018 opening began.
In a city that’s seen its share of buy and flip operators, Caruso left no doubt that he expects the Miramar to be a keeper. “I have never let go of an asset. I am not going to start with this one,” the developer of the Westlake Promenade, the Grove and the pioneer of the outdoor shopping experience told me during a brief chat.
Caruso said he expects to be on site to supervise construction, pick the pattern for the china and “become part of the community” as he put it. “I am not stepping back,” he said.
And Caruso, who went back to Santa Barbara County recently to renegotiate some water rights and other details, said the financial crisis played into the decade it took to get the Rosewood Miramar Beach Montecito resort off the ground. He said the post-Lehman Brothers crash of 2008 made it impossible to get financing for several years.
Still, he joked that “I never thought I would build projects a decade at a time” in his comments to a few dozen folks at the groundbreaking. One of them was Jordano’s CEO Peter Jordano, who applauded Caruso for making it to the finish line.
“My biggest concern is to make sure they do business locally,” said Jordano, whose companies provide food service and Anheuser Busch products throughout the region.
The hotel is estimated to cost between $175 million and $200 million and when it opens it will have 124 guest rooms, 37 suites, a ballroom that can seat 400 and a members-only beach club. Tudor Perini has been hired as general contractor for the project, whose designers include architects Marc Appleton of Montecito and Andy Cohen of Gensler.
Caruso took over the project when toy magnate and Santa Barbara Biltmore owner Ty Warner bowed out; Warner had succeeded Studio 54 legend Ian Schrager, whose plans faltered after the dot.com bubble burst.
Caruso faced opposition from local residents, including actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who once describe Caruso’s project as having a “shrinkage” problem. Even as ground was broken, protesters held signs critical of 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal for supporting the project.
But Caruso got the last laugh on the opposition and, ever the contrarian, he said he’s planting the flag on the South Coast because, among other things, Laguna Beach is, well, so 20th century.
“I’m going to build the finest resort on the California Coast,” he said.
Chalk up another Rick Caruso moment.
• Reach Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]