The company initially intended to announce its investment plans after a significant uptick in the overall economy. But with financing for new resorts all but nonexistent and cross-channel visits plummeting, Wrigley family members were not willing to wait any longer.
"Alison and Geoffrey said, 'It's time,' " Herrel said.
"That's extremely exciting news," said Avalon Mayor Bob Kennedy, owner of the ScubaLuv dive shop and operator of the new "Sea Trek" concession. "The era of the Santa Catalina Island Co. planning improvements but not pulling the trigger on development for fear of making a mistake is over."
The company's long-term goals include a complex starting on the western edge of town at scenic Descanso Beach that would be anchored by a 71-room boutique hotel, an 18-hole championship golf course, luxury homes and condominiums on the surrounding hills.
A partnership of the Koll Co. and Lambert Investments has selected Auberge Resorts of Napa Valley to develop the hotel, homes and condominiums.
Jack Nicklaus Cos. has been selected to develop the golf course, which would replace an existing nine-hole course built just south of town in 1892. Several holes would be developed on nearby mountain ridges overlooking downtown Avalon and the Pacific.
These large projects would require approval from the city of Avalon, Los Angeles County planners and the state Coastal Commission. They would also require city infrastructure improvements to accommodate the growth.
Construction has begun on 17 middle-income houses in a canyon at the south edge of Avalon.
Later this year, the company plans to spend $3.5 million remodeling the downtown 73-room Pavilion Lodge to include what developers described as "quasi-private outdoor living rooms." Remodeling is also planned for two popular waterfront restaurants -- Antonio's and Armstrong's -- as well as a block-long stretch of commercial space dominated by a vintage hotel, a Chinese restaurant, a hardware store and a post office.
Near-term improvements such as the zip line and underwater kelp walk should attract more visitors and provide a financial boon to the island, said Lisa Grobar, professor of economics at Cal State Long Beach.
"It really would broaden the appeal of Catalina a little bit more to families," Grobar said. "It's a nice romantic place to go for the weekend, but if you have kids, you wonder what there would be for them to do."
As for whether a deluxe hotel and golf course would pan out, she said: "Eventually, consumer spending will recover -- and they are not talking about having to fill a Las Vegas-style hotel with a thousand rooms each night."
"Given that, plus the uniqueness of the island," she added, "I think they have a shot at it."
Sahagun reported from Avalon, Vincent from Los Angeles.