|By Marie Vasari, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 1, 2005 - No one would accuse Carmel Valley Ranch of being shabby.
Set on 400 scenic acres, its 144-room hotel boasts amenities that would make most travelers drool.
Even the one-bedroom suites are graced with wood-burning fireplaces, and the overlooks of the golf course or the Santa Lucia mountains are nothing to sneeze at.
Besides the golf course, there are three restaurants and a health club. There are deluxe spa packages for couples, tennis and golf combos, that can run upwards of $400 per night.
What doesn't exist at the property on 1 Old Ranch Road is the Wyndham name anymore.
The development, previously part of the Wyndham International Inc. hotel chain, was purchased by an investment group in a $3.24 billion deal that included $1.44 billion in cash and assuming an estimated $1.8 billion Wyndham debt. The deal, with New York-based Blackstone Group, was finalized Aug. 16.
And a lot more cash is going to flow, as the developers now begin to look ahead at some major upgrades.
Although specifics have yet to be decided, Blackstone purchased the site with the intention of upgrading it, said Russell Flicker, the group's president of development. But what that means remains to be seen.
"I would say it's our opinion that the rooms, in terms of soft goods -- the furniture, the TVs, need an upgrade, a significant upgrade," said Flicker. Work will likely also be done on the golf course, and there's talk about a spa, renovating the restaurants, changes to the decor. But the exact nature of the work has not been decided, he said.
"To be fair, we only closed on the product a couple weeks ago," said Flicker. "We don't know what's going to happen either."
In the weeks ahead, executives will be discussing the project with local homeowners associations and the community for their input.
"We are just starting the process now of having conversations with our neighbors," said Flicker.
"This site, for the community, it's an icon, and it's also one of the engines of the community," he said. "We think it justifies a very significant investment.
"The beauty from our standpoint," said Flicker, "is our mandate here is going to match perfectly with the desires of our neighbors and the town."
Despite some local speculation that the hotel might be converted to time-share condominiums, Flicker said his group has no plans to do so.
"We came here because this is a glorious property," said Flicker, "and we want to make sure it stays that way."
The big question, says Flicker, is "what's the best way to restore the Carmel Valley Ranch to its proper glory?"
The hotel, in operation since the 1970s, will retain its current name, and the changes aren't expected to affect the hotel's 250 employees, said Carmel Valley Ranch General Manager David Shahriari.
"I think they're going to be very happy with the investment we're making in their hotel."
"We obviously love the Carmel Valley Ranch," said Flicker. "It's an asset that really justifies and demands a significant capital investment.
"It's unbelievable dirt, the way we talk -- it's unbelievable real estate."
"We see this as just a jewel, a real jewel product that needs more TLC," said Flicker. "We are lucky that we have access to capital, and we bought this willing to spend money."
Under the terms of the agreement, Blackstone acquired all of Wyndham's outstanding common stock for $1.15 per share in cash. Blackstone is the largest owner-operator of hotels in the country.
To see more of the Monterey County Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.montereyherald.com.
Copyright (c) 2005, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.
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