Miramar Deal Could Come Friday

L.A. Developer Expresses Interest in Hotel

The sale of the Miramar Hotel may occur as soon as Friday, officials from Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts said Monday, as a major Los Angeles developer has reportedly proposed to buy the so-called Blue Lady.

Warner representatives did not confirm or deny whether prominent Southern California businessman Rick Caruso had expressed interest in the property, but a number of local sources said yesterday they’d met with Caruso and his associates about his intentions of acquiring the downtrodden hotel. Warner bought the 213-room hotel in 2005 for $42 million from Ian Schrager.

On Tuesday, Matt Middlebrook, vice president of government relations with Caruso Affiliated, was in town to attend the County Board of Supervisors hearing. Middlebrook said he wasn’t authorized to discuss the possible acquisition, but he admitted that his presence at the hearing confirmed his company’s pursuit of the Miramar.

Caruso and his associates reportedly made a visit to Montecito last week and discussed the company’s plans for the hotel with members of the Montecito Association and the Voices of Montecito.

Montecito Association President Bob Collector said he had been pleased with his meeting with Caruso, saying the developer’s dream of a family-oriented hotel was close to the old style of the Miramar before it was shuttered in 2000.

While Warner has received multiple offers for the Miramar in the $50-million range, Caruso’s interest presents the most tangible sign so far of an imminent transaction. Caruso would become the third owner of the dilapidated resort in less than 10 years as Warner’s ambitions to revitalize the property languished last fall when he announced he was fed up with the hassles of County application procedures.

While he lacks experience in hotel ownership, Caruso, an L.A. Business Journal “Developer of the Year,” is as close as it comes to defining a California business celebrity. He is best known for transforming Southern California’s commercial districts with posh plein air shopping villages such as the Promenade at Westlake Village and the Grove in Los Angeles’s Fairfax district, facilities he prefers to refer to as “lifestyle centers.”

“What Walt Disney was to amusement parks, Caruso is to shopping centers,” Art and Living Magazine wrote last August.

The son of Dollar Rent-a-Car founder Hank Caruso, he grew up in Beverly Hills and received his bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Southern California in 1980. Three years later, Caruso graduated from Pepperdine Law School.

Reputed across the state for his business acumen, Caruso, 48, is also gifted in community relations, says a Journal source who asked not to be named. The source said Caruso is known for holding big town hall meetings to field comments and concerns from neighbors and build community consensus.

Caruso’s business approach draws several comparisons to that of Warner’s. He’s adept to spending lavish amounts of money on renovations to implement meticulous detail on all facets of his projects. His spirited devotion to aesthetic flourishes such as Italian phone booths, granite cobblestones and limestone storefront columns has come to be known as “Caruso-Style.”

At The Lakes, a shopping center in Thousand Oaks, Caruso produced a seasonal outdoor ice skating rink atop two artificial lakes separated by a stream that spills into rocky waterfalls.

But unlike Warner, whose wont is to be reclusive, Caruso has a knack for showmanship. In December of 2005, for example, he launched the holiday season at the Grove with a nationally televised lighting ceremony of a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, an imitation snowstorm of flakes made of gelatin sprayed from rooftops and a fireworks exhibition. The festivities featured “Desperate Housewives” actress Teri Hatcher, composer and singer Burt Bacharach and other stars.

Board Ratifies Montecito Appointments

Two weeks after boldly blocking another colleague’s appointments to government positions, the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday made an expected turnaround and ratified those selections. The decision officially reappointed Bob Bierig and Michael Phillips to the Montecito Planning Commission and appointed Sue Burrows to her first term on that same commission.

The three North County supervisors – Joni Gray, Joe Centeno and Brooks Firestone – had stalled the nominations on January 9, saying they wanted some time to scrutinize the effectiveness of the Montecito Planning Commission and review the process by which commissioners are selected.

Firestone, who represents the County’s third district, said Tuesday’s decision was meant to pledge confidence in the people fulfilling the duties as planning commissioners. But he said Montecito’s planning process still needs reform to make it more user-friendly.

Specific among Firestone’s complaints was the fact that hotelier Ty Warner, whom he called a “major County investor,” had become dissatisfied with the cost of doing business in Montecito.

Tuesday’s hearing was well-attended by a legion of Montecito Association members and backers who announced their support for the commission nominees and defended their own record pertaining to land use review.

“Everything we do is transparent and we have no agenda,” said Association President Bob Collector. “Our only bias is supporting the Montecito Community Plan.”

Meanwhile, Association leaders aimed to discredit the members of the newly formed Voices of Montecito, a local coalition that is calling for a County-commissioned panel designed to review the local planning system.

“The process is not broken,” said Dick Shaikewitz, the Association’s secretary. “They [Voices of Montecito] are convinced that the process is broken, with many of them not knowing how the system works.”

Voices of Montecito members said they’d continue to push for a panel, saying careful review would uncover flaws in the planning structure. Among those flaws is the repeated appointment of former Montecito Association leaders to County posts, which only “increases the potential for recycled decision makers,” said Kandy Luria-Budgor, a Voices member.

Voices members also take issue with the Association’s history of issuing road encroachment permits to local applicants, a responsibility they say is out of the authority of a private homeowners group.

Supervisor Centeno agreed with this sentiment, saying he met with County counsel and agreed planning staff should be handling those duties. “As far as we could tell, the Montecito Association has no authority in making these decisions,” Centeno said.

Minutes after making the Montecito appointments, Centeno said he would support a planning review panel, a concept he believed could wind up on a future Board of Supervisors agenda.