In a surprise shift in its position on the future of historic Casa Romantica, the Redevelopment Agency voted Wednesday to give a wedding business another chance to stay in the landmark building.
City Council members who serve on the agency board had been expected to terminate a business agreement with Maureen Capielo Gates, who hosts 150 weddings at Casa Romantica each year through her company, Events by Design.
City Atty. Jeff Oderman said the city wants to avoid a lawsuit from Gates, who has run her business from the city-owned Casa Romantica for 14 years. This will be Gates' fourth chance to make a proposal to lease, or even buy, the ocean-view property.
Gates said this is the first exclusive chance at a proposal she has been offered. She said she would be interested in buying the home, or at least securing a long-term lease, which she said would help her make an estimated $500,000 in needed restorations.
The agency voted in July to lease Casa Romantica to Doug Cavanaugh, founder of the Ruby's diner chain. Cavanaugh planned to convert the building into a Mexican restaurant, a proposal that sparked opposition among preservationists.
City officials have said the $100,000 annual rent paid by Gates' event company is barely enough to serve the city's $1-million mortgage debt on the home, and that the restaurant would raise more revenue.
The debate has become a key campaign issue in the Nov. 3 City Council election. Nearly all of the 16 candidates running for the three open City Council seats say they are opposed to a restaurant in the historic building.
The Redevelopment Agency will establish requirements for Gates' proposal at its next meeting.