|By David Sterrett, North County Times,
Escondido, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Oct. 31, 2006 - OCEANSIDE -- A proposed 336-room resort took a major step forward Friday when the developer submitted detailed plans to the city for the project expected to be the centerpiece of the downtown area, Oceanside officials said Monday.
While S.D. Malkin Properties Inc., a San Diego-based developer, made no significant changes to its previously disclosed plans for a $187 million Westin resort approved by the City Council in August, the developer filed the formal application nearly three weeks ahead of schedule.
"We are trying to move the process along as expeditiously as we can," said Jeremy Cohen, a senior vice president with Malkin, on Monday. "Obviously, this is an important milestone, and we are looking forward to moving on to the next step in the process."
Oceanside staff members are starting to review the application, and environmental studies should begin in January, said Jane McVey, the city's director of economic development and redevelopment.
McVey said Monday the city will probably hold a public meeting at the start of next year to get comments from residents about the project to start the year-long environmental studies.
The developer and city officials said they are hoping to stay on a schedule calling for construction to begin in 2008 and the resort to open in 2010.
"Every big project like this has lots of steps in it," McVey said. "This is a very big step."
McVey said the developer had until Nov. 14 to file its plans under a tentative agreement reached in August between the city and developer.
The council voted unanimously on Aug. 16 to approve a preliminary contract with the developer requiring the city to invest $27 million to help build the resort on two city-owned blocks bound by Seagaze Drive, Pier View Way, Myers Street and Pacific Street.
The plans call for a U-shaped, 289-room hotel facing the ocean on the south block, and a 47-room "boutique" hotel with larger rooms and 48 timeshares on the north block.
The project includes a two-story underground parking garage with more than 600 spaces and more than 30,000 feet of meeting space, including a 500-person ballroom.
The city requested that the developer include the ballroom for special events such as weddings or business conferences.
The city restricted the project to eight stories high to preserve as much of the existing ocean views as possible and wouldn't allow the developer to close any public streets or beach accesses.
"A downtown resort has been a goal of the city for 30 years," McVey said. "It will be a catalyst for other projects downtown and will generate revenue for the city."
City officials estimate the resort will produce about $2.5 million in hotel tax revenue and $1 million in property tax each year for the city.
The city is giving the developer $200,000 for the environmental studies, and the rest of the city's $27 million contribution will be raised through property, hotel and redevelopment tax revenue generated after the resort opens.
Both McVey and Cohen said Monday there has been no change to the estimate of what the city will have to contribute on the project.
Councilman Rocky Chavez said he is glad the developer turned in the application ahead of schedule because "the more time that passes, the more costs go up."
"It's exciting that the developer is being proactive," Chavez said. "The project is moving forward, and it's a very important hotel to the city."
The resort will be the "crown jewel" of downtown Oceanside, said Councilwoman Esther Sanchez.
"We are definitely going forward on this project," she said.
Oceanside has attempted to attract a resort to the downtown since the 1970s and several deals with developers have fallen apart.
Most recently, San Diego-based developer Doug Manchester made a proposal in the late 1990s to build a 475-room resort on the property with a $15 million contribution from the city.
Opponents criticized the high price-tag for the city and the design of the 12-story hotel, which would have closed several streets and spilled onto the beach area.
The city ended up paying Manchester $2.2 million in 2003 to settle lawsuits after the California Coastal Commission rejected the project.
While Manchester's project faced strong opposition from residents after being approved, Malkin has already worked hard to gain the support of elected officials and community leaders and residents.
McVey said the developer has already spent lots of money and time on making the project appealing to residents and city officials, but there was still much more work to do.
City staffers and developers will continue to revise the details of the plans in the next couple of months before presenting them to residents at the start of next year, McVey said.
"The developer has cleared the first set of hurdles," McVey said. "But there are still more hurdles ahead."
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Copyright (c) 2006, North County Times, Escondido, Calif.
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