|By Maria Zate, Santa Barbara News-Press, Calif.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 30, 2005 - The renovations at the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort in Santa Barbara are nearing the home stretch after four years of construction.
When billionaire Ty Warner purchased the hotel in 2000, he said his intentions were to faithfully restore the landmark to its glorious 1927 Spanish Colonial roots. However, he also wanted to add all the conveniences of the 21st century.
Today, about 75 percent of that goal has been accomplished, and the results so far show that Mr. Warner is coming through on his promise.
Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts invited the Biltmore's Montecito neighbors and members of the Coral Casino to tour the property today and last Sunday, giving the community a look at the changes from the $145 million renovation.
The tours were also intended to address some of the grumbling from the Biltmore's closest neighbors on Hill Road.
"We wanted to tell our neighbors that we're near the end of our four-year renovation," said Greg Rice, executive vice president of development for Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts.
Work on most of the guest rooms and all 12 cottages will be finished by July, Mr. Rice said, followed by a rest period during the peak tourist season.
In November, a remaining 40 guest rooms will be completed in the main building of the hotel. The kitchen, which has not seen any changes in size or design for the past 78 years, also will be revamped. The renovation is expected to be completed by this time next year.
Mr. Rice told tour attendees that the remaining work "won't be too intense."
"For those people who have been visiting the restaurants during the construction, it all seems wonderful. But for hotel guests, it has seemed less than resortlike," he added.
Most of the changes to the guest rooms have taken place in the bathrooms.
The original 1920s design had very small bathrooms, "which made it hard to move around in," Mr. Rice said. To make space for larger bathrooms, some of the hotel's smallest rooms were eliminated. The Biltmore will have a total of 229 rooms and suites after the remodeling, compared with 236 prior to the work. Suites will increase from 17 to 27.
Drawing inspiration from the original tile wainscot in the lobby, decorative, hand-painted tiles replaced the marble floors and countertops in all the bathrooms. Furnishings and decor in the guest rooms include hand-wrought reproductions of 1920s light fixtures, hand-carved mirror frames and chairs, stone mantles, and antiques.
The Biltmore and San Ysidro Ranch (also owned by Mr. Warner) are the South Coast's only luxury resorts from the 1920s that still stand.
In addition to local architects such as Thomas Bollay & Associates and Lenny Yates Vanhoy, Mr. Warner himself was "the most influential designer of the hotel's interior changes," said Mr. Rice. Other architects and designers include Peter Marino and Associates and Paul Duesing Partners.
Interior furnishings in guest rooms aren't the only changes. The patios on ground-floor rooms have been enlarged and the landscaping has been plumped up to give guests more privacy.
The changes at the Biltmore come with a hefty price tag for the overnight guest. The lowest-priced room, those in the "superior room" category, now start at around $600 a night. Before the renovations began in 2003, the lowest-priced superior room was roughly $400 a night.
In the renovated cottages, which all have wide-plank hardwood floors and fireplaces, the price of a one-bedroom suite starts at $1,650 a night.
Earlier renovations at the Biltmore included the $30 million makeover of the pool, fitness center and a new luxury spa. The pool, which was redone in 2001, has an underwater stereo system and is lined with custom-made tiles with an iridescent sparkle similar to opals and mother-of-pearl.
In the 10,000-square-foot spa, there are 10 treatment rooms; four of them are suites with fireplaces and ocean-view terraces. The Biltmore Spa won the a four-star rating last year from Mobil Travel Guide, which ranked it among the top 48 resort spas in North America.
Mr. Warner recently won approval to open the spa to those who are not staying in the hotel. A total of 25 nonguests can use the facilities during the low tourist season, and 15 in the peak season.
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