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Sale of Miramar Hotel is finalized

Retail developer Rick Caruso plans an upscale, family-friendly resort on the Montecito site.

January 27, 2007|Ashley Surdin | Times Staff Writer

Retail developer Rick Caruso has put the run-down Miramar Hotel in his upscale shopping bag.

Caruso, creator of the popular Grove shopping village in Los Angeles, said he finalized a deal this week to buy the landmark Montecito hotel from Beanie Babies tycoon Ty Warner.

The move was Caruso Affiliated's long-planned hop into the hotel industry, said Caruso, 48, whose developments include the Lakes at Thousand Oaks and the Americana at Brand, a shopping and residential district under construction in Glendale.

Drawn by the beachfront location and century-old history of the hotel in Santa Barbara County, Caruso set his sights on the Miramar when Warner put it up for sale last year.

"We're going to plan about a 200-room resort -- upscale but very family-friendly -- and really tie into the history of the Miramar, which was very much a local hangout," he said.

Caruso paid $50 million, said a hotel industry expert who asked not to be identified because he wasn't involved in the transaction. Warner bought the property in 2005 for $43 million from New York hotelier Ian Schrager, whose development plans stalled for six years as funds dried up.

Warner had high hopes for the Miramar, predicting that it would become "one of America's premier resorts," but he put the property up for sale late last year. His efforts were hampered by two community groups' "extreme bias" against him, he said.

Caruso wouldn't comment on his predecessors' problems overhauling the property. But meetings with community groups made him confident he wouldn't run into similar difficulties.

"There's always an advantage of being the second or third guy. The people before have laid out a road map of what the community wants, what the local government wants," he said. "Whatever happened in the past is the past. We're going up there with a clean slate."

The Montecito Assn., which represents 1,100 households in the area, recently met with Caruso and this week endorsed the change of ownership. President Robert Collector dubbed Caruso's plan "a terrific project."

Caruso said his next steps would be to assemble a hotel team, meet with homeowner groups in the area and submit plans to the county. He hopes to start construction by next year.

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ashley.surdin@latimes.com

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