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Long Beach, California's Redevelopment Agency to Once Again
Seek Developer for Promenade Hotel Project

By Karen Robes Meeks, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 3, 2009--LONG BEACH -- To accommodate two major design changes to The Promenade, Long Beach Redevelopment Agency board members Monday voted to raise its design contract with ValleyCrest Landscape Development Inc. to a maximum $960,000.

The contract, which the agency entered into in June 2007, was for work in the middle block of the Promenade between First Street and Broadway and the former amphitheater site east of the Promenade, now referred to as Promenade Square.

The Promenade is the three-block area wedged between Pine Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard from Ocean Boulevard to Third Street.

While the path along Promenade has been completed, Promenade Square has been delayed slightly because of two major design changes involving the new Bikestation and the infrastructure for a seasonal ice rink.

The original idea of reusing four buildings to house the Bikestation was "operationally inefficient" and did not add to the park's aesthetics. The new idea is to centralize the Bikestation's operations into one building and expand the public park area. To do that, the four buildings would have to be demolished.

The other design change involved making electrical upgrades that will be able to handle the chillers needed for a future seasonal ice rink that would be open in November and December.

Public improvements are expected to be done by mid-December. The park will feature new trees, open space and copper water walls flanking the stage.

Hotel project sought

Redevelopment leaders also unanimously approved the $2.8 million purchase of property in the downtown's Promenade area once slated for a four-star, 165-room boutique hotel project called Hotel Esterel.

The deal, which includes a 15 percent contingency amount for closing costs and other related expenses, brings to an end D'Orsay International Partners LLC's 27-year pursuit of developing a project on 139 E. Broadway and 201-239 The Promenade North.

In 1982, the developer Alain Sarfatti and a financial partner paid $2.25 million for a 30,000-square-foot parcel that included an 8-story building that once housed the former Barker Brothers furniture store. (The building has since been demolished and what sits there today is a parking lot.)

Over the years, several concepts had been planned for the property, including:

A mixed-use office and retail project called Promenade Plaza, which fell apart after investors hoping to reap big from the DisneySea project pulled out after Disney quit its plans;

A residential high-rise project called for a 10-floor building with 140 condominiums above ground-floor retail; and

An 11-story, 230-room hotel with ground-floor retail space called Hotel D'Orsay, which ran into financial snags following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Rising costs prompted developers to scale down the hotel project, resulting in its latest incarnation, Hotel Esterel.

Pans were again about to proceed when the market collapsed, said Redevelopment Bureau Manager Amy Bodek.

Last spring, the agency began talks to acquire the property from the developer, who has been unable to finance his project. Sarfatti could not be reached for comment Monday.

"We've wanted to see development occur there for so long it's almost been palatable," Bodek said. "This is the remaining gap on the Promenade, and we can't afford to let it sit there and be a parking lot for the next 10, 15 years. This was an opportunity for us to get control of the site."

Bodek said the agency will issue a Request for Proposal from developers in the coming months, exploring another hotel or residential concept.

karen.robes@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1303

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Copyright (c) 2009, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.

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