When Rick Caruso stepped up to bat, the crowd was silent and drew a breath. They watched with anticipation, intrigue, and disbelief and, yes, there was some distrust. After all, a lot of these fans had been to the game before, and they’d seen some big league players strike out. With the score a dismal two-zip in the seventh, there were more than a few pessimists in the pack.
With nary a pinch hitter in sight, Caruso stood alone at the plate. He took an easy, natural, comfortable swing and, man, did he connect - it was a home run, an out-of-the-ball-park hit! The crowd applauded, daring to dream once again of a win, and even the cattiest of felines was found purring alongside the plate.
Rick Caruso’s Miramar debut on Tuesday night, to a crowd of well over 250, was a serious crowd pleaser and a hometown hit. Hosted by the Montecito Association, Caruso (pictured with planner Ken Marshall) stood with MA board members near the entrance of El Montecito Presbyterian Church hall, greeting Montecito citizens by the dozen. Nattily dressed in a open-collared “Montecito Pink” shirt and black and white sport coat, Caruso looked respectable and respectful - as well he should, meeting what could only be called an extraordinary gathering of Montecito Who’s Who, all drawn to one of the largest town hall meetings ever held in Montecito.
Starting almost precisely on time at 7 p.m., Caruso took the podium and pleasantly worked the crowd. While many of those attending expected only a glimpse of the boss - we’re accustomed to managers making the pitch - Caruso spoke for himself throughout the whole show. He was engaging, humorous, glib, casual, instructive, and very, very comfortable in front of a crowd. He also proved he was a good listener.
“We’ve tried to reach out early on and do a good job of listening. We want to get it right,” he told the audience about his plans for the Miramar. “It is a special piece of real estate and we want to stay involved and be good neighbors. Because of you, we can breathe some life in the Miramar and make it a community asset.”
Caruso said he heard the community wants the Miramar to be residentially oriented and “Montecito Family Friendly” in design, in attitude, and in use. He said he heard requests to “green it up,” so he’s adding lush landscapes, lawns, and loads of trees. He said he heard the need for a banquet and conference center and new casual dining restaurants (even a milkshake bar for the kids) - and Caruso’s new Miramar will include it all. (He is nixing the blue roofs, he said, because he heard that is what we want.)
He said he listened, and Miramar will provide four on-site employee housing units, have underground parking, include at least two pools (not to mention a kiddie pool!), and the entire project will fall within the requirements of the Montecito Community Plan. To meet those requirements, he said he wouldn’t push the height limits, he will have fewer keys than Ian Schrager’s plan, and he’ll have plenty of coastal access for the public.
“We want the public to be able to come on the property,” he said, reinforcing his concept that this hotel will be the community’s hotel haven. “It is the community base that makes it work.”
And, yes, he heard the beach and tennis club should continue, so it will, but he’s not yet ready to reveal the price point of memberships. He did say he wants to increase the rates though.
The design will be “California Plantation,” a mix of wood siding, awnings, verandas, and gardens, replicating a Bahamas private club look. “We’re striving for a sophisticated beach environment,” he explained, adding it will be the mid-to-expensive price range. “It will be a four-star hotel because if it becomes a three-star hotel, you will probably see me carrying your luggage,” Caruso panned.
The thought of profit brought up the question of financing (you’ll recall, of course, Montage readers, that one of Schrager’s big problems was getting money). Caruso calmed financial fears by saying his monetary picture was strong. “Banks are calling us,” he noted. “We have a balance sheet that, if it came down to it, we could do it on our own.” He said he was still mulling a time-share concept, and he asked for a show of audience hands to give him direction. (No strong preference either way.)
After patiently taking questions for more than an hour, Caruso ended with a request from his newly found fans: “With your help this project is do-able with in two years.”
He said if the audience (pictured here with Montecito Association president Bill Palladini in the foreground) liked the project, they should contact Supervisor Salud Carbajal so he could help speed the building process along. But then, in a spark of opportunity, seeing Carbajal in the audience, Caruso asked for now-time support demonstration - and the audience showed this time they’d been they’d been listening! Every hand in the audience flapped in the air to show favor for Caruso’s concept, including the arm of renowned Ty-foe/arm-wrestler Cynthia Ziegler. And Carbajal found the crowd’s response “amazing.”
It was hard to tell at that moment of truth if the audience was voting for the charming Caruso or the charming project, or just inspired hope for any Miramar motion. But, after a 10-year losing streak, it was a great night in Montecito-ville. It was the night Caruso came up to bat, to bat with charisma and power for the shutout Miramar.