|By Jim McLain, Ventura County Star,
Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Jan. 27, 2007 - -The builder of some of the region's toniest retail venues said Friday that he is buying Montecito's long-neglected Miramar Hotel.
Rick J. Caruso, builder of The Lakes at Thousand Oaks, The Promenade at Westlake, The Commons at Calabasas and a host of other upscale Southern California "lifestyle centers," said he is buying the storied beachfront property from Ty Warner, a Montecito multibillionaire.
Caruso's company, Caruso Affiliated, signed a purchase agreement earlier this week and escrow should close in a few weeks, said Matt Middlebrook, the company's vice president of government relations. He declined to disclose the price.
The once-prominent Miramar has languished on 17 expensive acres between the beach and Highway 101 since it was closed in 2000 for a makeover that never materialized.
It will be Caruso's first foray into hotel ownership, Middlebrook said, but he said he believes buying the property is a natural extension of his approach to retail. Caruso Affiliated officials will seek Montecito residents' views before deciding how to renovate and modernize the property.
"We're going to restore it as a great hotel," Middlebrook said. "It's a little early in terms of saying exactly what it's going to look like, but we're going to turn it into a first-class, family friendly hotel."
Known for its bright blue roofs, the Miramar dates back to the 1870s.
Warner, a Beanie Baby magnate worth more than $6 billion according to Forbes magazine, bought the property in 2005, reportedly for about $45 million, according to the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Warner's company, Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts, decided to sell in November after a protracted debate on redeveloping it with the Montecito Association, a homeowners group, the News-Press said.
The Miramar featured about 200 rooms before it closed, Middlebrook said, and Caruso Affiliated envisions having that many or fewer when it is rebuilt.
Tennis courts, a restaurant and pool are also being considered.
Caruso Affiliated will spend at least several months planning the renovation, Middlebrook said, with the hope of restoring some parts of the property, although much probably will have to be rebuilt. The company also plans to keep the Miramar name.
Any construction will require approvals from the California Coastal Commission, Montecito Area Planning Commission and possibly the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
Warner, whose Ty Toys cashed in on the Beanie Babies craze of the 1990s, owns numerous other high-profile properties in the area, including the Four Seasons Biltmore, Coral Casino Beach Club, San Ysidro Ranch, Montecito Country Club and Sandpiper Golf Course. Caruso Affiliated wants to develop a project suited to the upscale area.
"There's a lot of frustration about how long that property has been closed, and people are anxious to see it reopened," Middlebrook said. "We want to move quickly, but we also want to get it right and make sure that the community is included in the process."
Caruso Affiliated, in business for about 10 years, emphasizes entertainment and restaurant components at its shopping centers, aiming to make them community gathering places, according to its press release.
The company developed The Grove in West Los Angeles and is building The Americana at Brand, a 16-acre Glendale project that will combine residential and retail. In addition, there are plans for Golden Gate Fields, a retail, entertainment and residential development on the site of a longtime Bay Area race track.
Caruso is a son of Dollar-A-Day Rent-A-Car founder Henry Caruso.
"My properties have been successful because of our strong emphasis on hospitality and customer service," Caruso said in a prepared statement.
"Breathing new life into the Miramar Hotel is a great extension of that focus on hospitality. This is a great property, and a great community, and I look forward to working hand-in-hand with the local residents and elected officials to build a really special hotel."
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