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Five Prominent Hotels in Santa Barbara
 Receiving Multi-millions in Renovations
By Maria Zate, Santa Barbara News-Press, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 3, 2005 - While the South Coast has been in the grips of a residential remodeling frenzy for several years, the fervor to expand, refresh and restyle has also spread to many properties that serve as a home away from home for visitors -- hotels and resorts.

Most of the work at the hotels has been largely shielded from public view, thanks to careful camouflaging. But some changes, such as the closure of favorite restaurants, have been hard to ignore.

Here is a recap of five of the most prominent hotel renovation projects currently under way.

El Encanto Hotel and Garden Villas

Total renovation cost: About $15 million Construction began: September 2005 Expected completion: 2007

The Orient Express Hotel Company purchased the El Encanto in November 2004 for $26 million and committed to following the master renovation plan that its former owner, the late Eric Friden, spent three years crafting.

The plan calls for a revamping of the entire property, including the rehabilitation of the main building, restaurant, lounge and all 84 guest cottages and villas. Plans also call for reconfiguring the pool so that it is perpendicular to El Encanto's unmatched ocean view.

Orient Express said it will keep the resort's historic character and even rebuild other structures to match the original architecture. It expects to build a spa and fitness center under the main building, revamp the restaurant and lounge and rehabilitate all of the cottages and villas.

Because of the challenges of renovating the original main building, Orient Express has postponed the closure of the property. The plan originally called for the hotel to close after the summer season 2005. But the closure has been pushed back to fall 2006, with the entire property shuttered for about 10 months. These plans, however, are still under review and are likely to shift again, said Clive O'Donoghue, general manager of the hotel.

In the meantime, renovation started last September on four buildings. The first phase will include 21 rooms going out of service, and they will return as 15 rooms with larger bathrooms.

Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort

Total renovation cost: About $14 million Construction began: July 2004 Expected completion date: April 2006

The Doubletree is entering the last phase of a property-wide renovation that began last year. In the first phase, completed in September 2004, the resort remodeled all of its meeting space, which totals about 30,000 square feet. This included replacing carpets, wall coverings, doors, chandeliers and other lighting systems.

Phase two of the work entailed the overhaul of the resort's primary restaurant, Cafe Los Arcos, and the bar. Both of these areas were closed for 12 weeks last spring and reopened in time for the Fourth of July. New carpets, walls and booths were installed in the restaurant, which holds 128 diners.

The bar area -- which used to have a sunken, octagonal configuration -- was completely demolished and redesigned. Seating was decreased from 74 seats to 60 to create space for a private boardroom in the area, said Tim Bridwell, general manager of the Doubletree. The exterior patio of the bar now has new furniture, landscaping, a fireplace and a fountain. Furniture and carpet in the lobby were also replaced during phase two.

Last October, the Doubletree began its final remodeling phase to refresh all 360 guest rooms and the adjoining corridors. Along with new furniture, all draperies will be replaced with wood shutters.

Four Seasons Biltmore Resort

Total renovation cost: $160 million Construction began: 2000 Expected completion: April 2006 When billionaire Beanie Babies creator Ty Warner purchased the Biltmore in 2000, he announced his intentions to faithfully restore the landmark to its glorious 1927 Spanish Colonial roots, plus add all the conveniences of the 21st century.

He kicked off his plan with a $30 million makeover of the pool and fitness center and built a new, 10,000-square-foot luxury spa. This phase was completed in November 2002. A year later, the resort began the enhancement of most of the guest rooms and all 12 cottages to include larger and more luxurious bathrooms.

The final phase, which began last month, includes the remaining 40 guest rooms in the main building of the hotel, which was constructed in 1927. A new kitchen will be built, replacing the cramped quarters that date back more than 70 years and have never had a face lift.

Changes in the cooking area prompted the closure of the Biltmore's Patio and La Marina restaurants. When the main building reopens in spring 2006, it will feature a reincarnated patio restaurant area bearing a new name and more refined look. The former La Marina dining room will be used only for Sunday brunch, special events and private gatherings. But La Marina-style dining and the renowned menu will be offered in the new patio restaurant space.

For the next four months, guest check-in and valet parking has been moved to the back of the property at Hill Road. When the main building reopens next spring, visitors and guests entering at Channel Drive will have an unblocked ocean view from the entrance -- the valet parking area and landscaping are being dropped five feet to open up the vista.

Harbor View Inn

Total renovation cost: $3 million (construction only) Construction began: Fall 2004 Expected completion: June 2006

The 94-room hotel across from Sterns Wharf is adding 19 more guest accommodations -- 16 rooms and three suites.

A one-story retail building at 29 State St. was demolished in the fall of 2004 to make way for a new, three-story, Spanish-style structure. At roughly 27,000 square feet, this building will include the additional guest rooms and suites on the second and third floors, with ground-level parking for more than 20 vehicles.

A small coffee bar and a retail space will front State Street when the project is completed in June 2006, said Mark Romasanta, general manager of the hotel.

San Ysidro Ranch

Total renovation cost: $75 million Construction began: September 2004 Expected completion: Not yet determined

All of the infrastructure on the historical property, dating back to the late 1800s, has been overhauled, including the water and sewer system, electrical, plumbing and communication lines. This major undertaking took nine months to complete in 2004 and was the equivalent of building "a brand-new residential development," according to George Del Cotto, vice president of property development for Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts, which owns the property.

Renovation of the "hacienda," the ranch's reception area, was done over five months at the beginning of 2005 at a cost of $3 million. During this time, the ranch was closed, but reopened to meet summer demand. Sixteen of the 40 cottages have been remodeled at a cost of roughly $1 million each.

Three more cottages will be added to the guest-ready list by the end of the year.

This week, another eight cottages will enter the remodeling stage, and five more will join the list by March 2006. The remaining 13 cottages will be renovated in staggered phases to accommodate the ebb and flow of guests.

In April 2006, the ranch's two restaurants -- the Stonehouse and the Plow & Angel Bistro -- will reopen, anchored by a new kitchen and wine cellar. Both have been closed since a kitchen fire in April 2004.


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