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The 20 year Old Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Owned
 by Strategic Hotel Capital Inc., Receiving
 $30 million Renovation
The Orange County Register, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Sep. 2, 2004 - DANA POINT, Calif. -- Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, which set the standard for luxury hotels in Orange County, is getting a massive makeover.

The owners are building a new spa and fitness center, renovating the rooms and replacing The Dining Room -- Orange County's only Five Diamond restaurant -- with a more casual eatery.

The Dining Room will serve its signature French and Mediterranean meals for the last time on Saturday.

Construction of the spa and fitness center began in May, while renovations of the rooms and remodeling of the restaurant will begin in October. All the work is expected to be done by spring 2005 and will reportedly cost at least $30 million.

It is the largest renovation the 20-year-old hotel has had since it opened in 1984.

"We are going to be a world-class hotel," said John Dravinski, general manager. "We are the crown jewel of the Ritz-Carlton chain."

Certain wings of the hotel will be closed during the renovations and many of the 900 workers at the hotel will temporarily have reduced hours or be trained for other jobs. The timing of closures hasn't been decided yet, said Deanne French, hotel spokeswoman.

The Dining Room is known for its extensive wine list, caviar cart and ornate decor. It earned Five Diamond status from the American Automobile Association for four consecutive years under the direction of Chef Yvon Goetz.

Hotel officials said they didn't know what would happen to Goetz or the other chefs, but a filing with the state Employment Development Department indicates that there may be three permanent layoffs due to the closure of the restaurant.

Although The Dining Room was completely enclosed and only served dinner, the new, casual restaurant will have an ocean view and serve three meals per day, French said. The menu and the look haven't been decided, but it will not be French fine dining, she said. The existing Club Grill & Bar will take over as the signature restaurant.

This surprises Alan Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality Group, because the Ritz-Carlton markets itself as a top-tier luxury resort, and those typically come with fine dining.

"You'd think they would keep the fine dining room and add casual dining with the fitness center," Reay said.

George Munz, the Ritz's director of sales and marketing, insisted that The Dining Room was doing well, but he did say that the spending habits of the guests have changed.

"You used to ask 'How many magnums did you sell,'" Munz said. "Now you ask 'Did you sell one?'" Fine dining restaurants, where part of the experience is to sit for hours, face increased competition from restaurants with the same food for cheaper prices and faster turnaround, said Randy Hiatt, president of Fessel International in Costa Mesa.

"People just don't take that time anymore," Hiatt said.

The 20-year-old bluff-top Ritz-Carlton is owned by Strategic Hotel Capital Inc. in Chicago. The Ritz-Carlton earned its 18th consecutive Five Diamond rating last year from the American Automobile Association. It is the only hotel in California to gain the coveted award for more than 12 consecutive years.

All the 393 rooms will be redone during the renovation. They will get new furniture, new art work and flat-screen televisions.

The Ritz-Carlton started the luxury hotel movement along the Orange County coast, but serious competition has entered the market in the past three years. The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa, also a Five Diamond hotel, opened in 2001; and last year came three more The Balboa Bay Club Resort in Newport Beach, the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach and the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort.

With eight resorts along the stretch of beach some call the "Orange Coast Riviera," the number of top hotel rooms have doubled to 2,500 in less than two years. The average price per night is $350.

Occupancy rates for south Orange County were 78 percent in June this year, said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. That's up about 1.4 percent from the previous year. Munz said that the occupancy rate for Ritz-Carlton has gone up every year since 2001.

"When there is buzz about an area, that generally drives up business," Kyser said, "but if you are the oldest property in the area, you have to do a nip and tuck." Adding a spa and fitness center is typical for older hotels trying to keep up with younger competitors, experts said.

"Today's travelers want to stay at a hotel with both a spa and fitness center," Reay said.

At the neighboring Montage Resort & Spa, people typically need to make their spa reservations two weeks in advance, said spokeswoman Marguarite Clark.

When it's finished, the Ritz Carlton spa will have 11 rooms offering new treatments such as salt scrubs and vichy showers, French said. People using the new fitness center will be able to walk on treadmills or lift weights while looking out over the ocean.

By Catrine Johansson and Michele Himmelberg

RITZ-CARLTON, LAGUNA NIGUEL:

--Rooms: 393 (30 suites)

--Rates: $325-$575

--Style: Mediterranean

--Meeting space: 22,000 square feet, 18 rooms, 18 acres outdoors

--Spa: Plans to expand

--Why you'd go: Only California hotel to earn AAA Five Diamond rating for more than 12 consecutive years.

--Opened: August 1984

--New: Announced a $30 million renovation and spa expansion.

COMPETITORS: The St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa and the Montage Resort & Spa joined two other coastal resorts in recent years as competition for the venerable Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, which has just begun a $30 million renovation. Here's how they stack up:

St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa, Dana Beach:

--Rooms: 400 (74 suites)

--Rates: $355-$595

--Style: Tuscan

--Meeting space: 30,000 square feet indoors, 90,000 outdoors

--Spa: 30,000 square feet, 25 treatment rooms; three couples rooms

--Why you'd go: Ocean views reach across PCH. Earned several key awards, including Robb Report's Top 10 new resorts in the world.

--Opened: July 2001

--Phone: (949) 234-3771

Montage Resort & Spa, Laguna Beach:

--Rooms: 262 (51 suites)

--Rates: $450 to $625

--Style: California Craftsman, reminiscent of early 1900s

--Meeting space: 20,000-plus square feet indoors and out, eight meeting rooms

--Spa: 20,000 square feet, 21 treatment rooms

--Why you'd go: On the beach, unlike most that overlook the water.

--Opened: Feb. 2003

--Phone: (949) 715-6000

-----To see more of The Orange County Register, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ocregister.com.

(c) 2004, The Orange County Register, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com. MAR,

 
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