Luxury mar­ket fu­els Mi­ra­mar re­sort makeover

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Roger Vin­cent

Long an eye­sore for trav­el­ers headed to Santa Bar­bara, the di­lap­i­dated Mi­ra­mar Ho­tel had been the site of bro­ken prom­ises and failed ex­pec­ta­tions for more than a decade.

But now, the fam­ily va­ca­tion spot dat­ing to the 1880s has been de­mol­ished, and a luxury ho­tel is headed for one of the last avail­able sea­side re­sort lo­ca­tions in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

It comes as real es­tate mogul Rick Caruso, best known for build­ing the Grove shop­ping cen­ter in Los An­ge­les, rides a wave of grow­ing de­mand for wa­ter­front ac­com­mo­da­tions with deluxe ap­point­ments.

Seek­ing to meld the fam­ily feel of the orig­i­nal Mi­ra­mar with the luxury de­mands of to­day’s well-to-do trav­el­ers, he un­veiled Tues­day the de­sign for his first ho­tel project — set to open in 2018.

In­cluded are wa­ter­front cot­tages where fam­i­lies are ex­pected to check in for months at a time and a beach club for nearby res­i­dents, some of whom have been skep­ti­cal over the years about the new devel­op­ment.

Caruso also re­vealed that the 170-room inn will be op­er­ated by Rose­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts, a chain of high-end hostel­ries based in Hong Kong that caters to well-to-do in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers.

“We see it mostly as a leisure des­ti­na­tion very close to L.A.,” Rose­wood Pres­i­dent Radha Arora said. “We be­lieve the Hol­ly­wood mar­ket will re­ally fa­vor it with its unique suites and cot­tages. At the same time, we want to be on a world plat­form.”

The $185-mil­lion re­sort will be built along U.S. 101 in Mon­tecito where the origi-

nal Mi­ra­mar was closed 15 years ago. Two pre­vi­ous own­ers tried un­suc­cess­fully to rebuild a ho­tel there as the site lan­guished and be­came an eye­sore in the wealthy com­mu­nity be­tween the Santa Ynez Moun­tains and the Pa­cific.

Now, with the pre­mium ho­tel mar­ket re­cov­ered from the beat­ing it took af­ter the last re­ces­sion and con­struc­tion ap­provals from Santa Bar­bara County of­fi­cials in hand, Caruso is close to break­ing ground on what he says will be one of the coast’s most elite inns.

“We will be the only fives­tar ho­tel on the beach in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia where you can open the door and step on the sand,” he said.

Most other top-end sea­side ho­tels are on bluffs over­look­ing the Pa­cific, Caruso said, but not on the beach. His goal is to re-cre­ate the re­laxed at­mos­phere of the old Mi­ra­mar while in­cor­po­rat­ing the kind of ameni­ties found in ex­clu­sive in­ter­na­tional re­sorts, he said.

“It will look and feel like a great old home that was built in the 1930s,” he said, “a gra­cious, beau­ti­ful home with a lot of his­tory to it.”

Be­sides the Grove, Caruso built Amer­i­cana at Brand in Glen­dale and other shop­ping cen­ters, as well as con­do­mini­ums and luxury apart­ments.

He plans to start work on the ho­tel next year af­ter plans are com­pleted. Spread over 16 acres, Rose­wood Mi­ra­mar Beach will have 122 guest rooms and 48 suites, many of which will be in sin­gle-story cot­tages and bun­ga­lows with as many as four bed­rooms.

Caruso ex­pects some of the bun­ga­lows to be rented by the sea­son. Long-term guests will get sheets em­bla­zoned with their own mono­grams and other per­sonal ser­vices such as hav­ing room larders stocked to their tastes upon ar­rival and get­ting their clothes laun­dered and re­turned to their clos­ets while they are away.

Such “high touch” ser­vices, as they are known, are in­creas­ingly ex­pected by guests at elite ho­tels, said New­port Beach ho­tel in­vest­ment spe­cial­ist Don­ald Wise, co-founder of Turn­bull Cap­i­tal Group.

“The luxury ho­tel seg­ment is back, but it still has chal­lenges,” Wise said. “Af­flu­ent peo­ple want highly per­sonal, in­ti­mate and so­phis­ti­cated ser­vice” cus­tom­ized to their in­di­vid­ual tastes.

The Rose­wood Mi­ra­mar Beach will have to cre­ate its own style dif­fer­ent from other plush Santa Bar­baraarea ho­tels in­clud­ing Belmond El En­canto, San Ysidro Ranch and Four Sea­sons Re­sort the Bilt­more Santa Bar­bara, he said.

Caruso did not re­veal what rooms would cost at his ho­tel, but Wise pre­dicted they would top $750 a night. “It’ll be a pretty strong num­ber,” Wise said.

The chal­lenge of cre­at­ing a coastal re­sort in Cal­i­for­nia keeps the num­ber of com­peti­tors low, Wise said.

Sites are dif­fi­cult to find and state and lo­cal ap­proval pro­cesses can be ag­o­niz­ingly slow. The Ter­ranea Re­sort in Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes and Mon­tage La­guna Beach each took more than two decades to com­plete.

“If three or four more ho­tels like the Mi­ra­mar get built in the next 20 years, that’s prob­a­bly a lot,” Wise said.

The Rose­wood Mi­ra­mar Beach will have an ocean­side bar and restau­rant with an out­door ter­race, a signa- ture restau­rant, two swim­ming pools, a spa, a fit­ness cen­ter, a screen­ing room and event space in­clud­ing a ball­room.

It will also have a rare fea­ture for a would-be five-star ho­tel — a train track run­ning through the grounds. The long-stand­ing track serves Am­trak’s pas­sen­ger line, which used to stop at the Mi­ra­mar. Pas­sen­ger trains pass through up to a dozen times a day.

The re­sort will mark a re­turn to Santa Bar­bara County for Rose­wood Ho­tels & Re­sorts, which for­merly op­er­ated San Ysidro Ranch.

An in­ter­na­tional brand, Rose­wood op­er­ates 18 luxury prop­er­ties in 11 coun­tries. Among them are the Car­lyle in New York, Ho­tel de Cril­lon in Paris, Rose­wood Lon­don and Las Ven­tanas al Paraiso in Los Ca­bos, Mex­ico. The com­pany plans to op­er­ate 50 ho­tels by 2020.

A sta­ble econ­omy and grow­ing out-of-state aware­ness of Cal­i­for­nia coastal re­sorts put them in po­si­tion to pros­per, said Los An­ge­les hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try con­sul­tant Bruce Baltin of PKF Con­sult­ing.

“South­ern Cal­i­for­nia is de­vel­op­ing a more na­tional and in­ter­na­tional base for th­ese,” he said, “and they do well with lo­cals in the sum­mer­time, week­ends and hol­i­days.”

The suc­cess is a pro­nounced turn­around from the last eco­nomic down­turn, when some top re­sorts in­clud­ing the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Or­ange County went into fore­clo­sure or were forced to find new fi­nan­cial part­ners.

In 2009, top-tier coastal re­sorts were less than half oc­cu­pied and charged an av­er­age daily rate of $450, ac­cord­ing to PKF. The firm an­tic­i­pates that their rooms will be oc­cu­pied 75% of the time this year and cost about $590 a day.

The Santa Bar­bara area pro­vides the right in­gre­di­ents for a suc­cess­ful re­sort, Baltin said.

“It ap­peals to L.A. as a get­away as well as in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers,” he said. “It has good-qual­ity food and it’s walk­a­ble, easy to get around.”

Caruso Aff il­i­ated

SPREAD OVER 16 acres, the 170-room Rose­wood Mi­ra­mar Beach re­sort in Mon­tecito is set to open in 2018.

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