Understanding Ty Warner, Rick Caruso, and the Future of the Miramar
I met Ty Warner (pictured) in the summer of 2000. He had just purchased the Biltmore Hotel and Coral Casino. I invited him to tour a Santa Monica beach club that had undergone a renovation similar to what he envisioned for the Coral Casino. Meeting in Santa Monica, our time was brief, but revealing. In our two-hour expedition, I got a partial key into understanding Warner’s exuberance for pouring millions of dollars into Montecito’s hospitality business.
I found Warner to be extremely polite (he attended a military prep school); pleasantly articulate (our chat ranged from paddle tennis to Montecito restaurants; he favored, at the time, the Montecito Café), and, most importantly, he allowed me a glimpse at the creative mind that paved his way to billionaire-land. As he toured the Santa Monica club he spouted innovative ideas at every turn, his entourage dutifully capturing his rapid-fire thoughts. But, the most revealing thing I discovered at our meeting was, cuddle-toy-trade aside, the Beanie Baby mogul was no softy and, for him, business was no game. Which brings me to January 2007 and Rick Caruso (pictured). Caruso is Montecito’s newest savior-in-escrow, here from L.A. to extricate and deliver the Miramar Hotel from Potter’s-Field-rot. Caruso, who I met last Friday at a media breakfast at Cava, is a high-end shopping center developer. A handsome man — a six-footer with neatly trimmed dark hair, a chiseled jaw, and trustworthy dark brown eyes — Caruso suited up to meet the press in impeccable Montecito chic: silk sports coat, gray gabs, starched open-collared dress shirt. His demeanor was pliant, casual, open, straightforward, humorous, enthusiastic, and personal.
Stepping from his Lincoln Navigator (the requisite developer-mobile), he told me he drives his kids to school each morning — a joy that he rarely misses. And he said his children are teaming with exciting ideas for the Miramar. “They want the raft back and a slide,” he revealed, barely containing his own enthusiasm for the project. “This is going to be a family hotel, a local resource, a place where people can come with kids on the weekend,” he said, as he grabbed some kiddy crayons to demonstrate his concepts on the restaurant’s paper place mat.
Caruso plans to clear-cut all the existing buildings. “They are run-down, there is mold, and they are not legally safe,” and then he added, in a reassuring tone, he has no plans to add extra rooms. “If anything we will reduce keys,” he explained, saying families today want larger accommodations. To meet that demand Caruso says he might merge a number of the Miramar’s compact style motel rooms, thus reducing the number of rooms. He says, even with reduced keys, he believes he can turn a profit. “We think we can be profitable if the hotel is community-oriented,” he said.
And with the community being known as developer’s stumbling-block-hell, Caruso has done his homework. In less than three weeks — since he discovered the property was for sale — he has met with many of the community influencers. After meeting with Supervisor Salud Carbajal, Caruso said he feels reassured that he will not get caught in the infamous permit quagmire. Carbajal pledged to do all he could to help Caruso’s team to navigate through the treacherous straits between neighborhood protectionists and county regulations. “He is a great leader,” Caruso said, referring to Carbajal, “and I think things might have gone differently if I hadn’t met him.”
But it was Caruso who quickly learned which Montecito-centric buttons to hit. “There is really nothing here more special than the Miramar,” he said, reinforcing a perspective locals love to hear. He says he’ll keep the beach club for local’s use and rebuild the tennis courts; he’s going to replace the blue roofs (if the community wants them), and he says he even likes the train that runs smack through the Miramar property. “I think the railroad is part of the history and charm and I think we can do some fun things with that,” he said.
On his “fix-it-list,” he admits he sees no special significance in of the two story “Motel Six” buildings currently decaying on the Miramar site, and he thinks the roadway could use some reconfiguration, in the hopes of blocking some of the 101’s traffic noise. He intends to hire local, he says, and he will be setting up an office in the Santa Barbara area shortly after he closes on the property later this week.
While the sale price has not been disclosed, Caruso is already ready to re-open his checkbook. He said he hopes initial plans will be ready in “a couple” of months and he forecasts a year-and-a-half of construction before the hotel will celebrate a grand opening.
While Caruso has met with several dozen locals, he indicated he wants to meet more Montecito residents. At the top of his “Must-Meet” list is Ty Warner — the billionaire who closed the multi-million dollar Miramar deal without ever having a face-to-face meeting with Caruso. (Montage hears he is traveling in the Orient). Montage predicts when the two finally shake hands, a powerful connection will occur because they are both challenge-driven extreme-developers who have shot the development rapids of the rigorously protective residential village of Montecito. They will be bonded in that perilous experience and will have amazing adventure stories to tell about the high-risk ride.
MONTECITO MEANDERINGS: Montecito resident Michael DeGruy (pictured) goes natural this week as the director of Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s natural history films series, Reel Nature. A splendid natural history filmmaker himself, Michael tells Montage that making a natural history film is popular among some top Hollywood filmmakers. People like James Cameron (Titanic) have become fans and there is some strong competition among Hollywood super-producers to capture the beauty, depth, and mystery of nature. Cameron will be on hand to present the Sir David Attenborough Award to Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim for An Inconvenient Truth on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Arlington. Michael will moderate the event. Insider SBIFF tip: Catch the Reel Nature exhibits on the big screen, to see a real natural beauty.
PLOW AND ANGEL OPENS: Montage is thrilled to announce that the Plow and Angel will re-open for dinner on Monday, February 5 from 5 until 10 p.m. Montecito has not been herself without our comfortable old standby, so we’re glad she’s back. Staff assures us the interior ambiance will be familiar, just slightly more comfortable, and the menu will have the old standbys: Mac and Cheese, ribs and burgers. Plow and Angel will be on a non-reservation-first-come basis, so go early enough to take a peek at some of San Ysidro Ranch’s redone public rooms that were part of Ty Warner’s $150 million renovation. P.S. A few readers have asked me if the Ranch is serving lunch. Neither restaurant is serving lunch at this time, but we’ll keep you posted.
TAKE TIME TO SMELL THE FREE COFFEE: Montecito Association Secretary, Dick Shaikewitz (pictured), was out for his 10 a.m. Friday constitutional on Coast Village Road and he smelled morning coffee at Cava, which is normally closed for breakfast. Curious, Dick sauntered into the restaurant to check things out. “I saw all these nice people and just walked in,” he explained.
His presence, however, sent off a fury, as he had stumbled into Rick Caruso’s media conference. It was an event that the warring Montecito homeowner’s factions (Montecito Association/Voices of Montecito) had marked as a demilitarized zone. Shaikewitz poured some coffee, made a few observations on behalf of MA in favor of the Caruso project, and departed, leaving the dismayed Caruso staff stammering to offer an explanation.
“We want you to know we did not invite him,” said Caruso VP Matt Middlebrook, getting his first taste of Montecito’s strong, dark brew. Salud Carbajal said he was also surprised to see Dick. “Who invited him?” the Supervisor asked Montage.
Montage, of course, is always happy to sleuth and we solved the coffee-crasher mystery: Dick was taking a walk to drop off mail and it was by lucky coincidence he found the Caruso-coffee-klatch. One curious note: In the past, Shaikewitz has been Montecito’s most vocal opponent against a Montecito train quiet zone (the law limits horn blaring, which Shaikewitz thinks is dangerous). However, during the press conference when Caruso blessed the new law as aid to his Miramar project, Shaikewitz found his own quiet zone and uttered nary a negative word.
BILTMORE TURNS 80: Montecito was well represented at Saturday’s Four Season’s Biltmore Birthday Bash, which later parlayed into the mod SBIFF Scott Corridan-designed $200K-plus super party. One hundred of the Biltmore’s closest friends dropped by to toast the octogenarian and cheer the completion of her renovation. Isadore Sharp, founder, chairman, and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels, was on hand for the event along with his wife Rosalie (pictured) to cut a ribbon to indicate the relaunched Biltmore was once again a fully complete resort.
Greg Rice took the bows for Ty Warner, who missed the event due to his travel schedule. Revelers included Dallas and Peter Clark, Lee Luria, Parker Montgomery, Gene Montesano, Eric Friedman (pictured, representing Supervisor Salud Carbajal who was in Washington D.C.), Andy and Dollie Granitelli, Melissa and Ralph Iannelli, Mary Belle and Tom Snow, and Nina Terzian. Anne and Michael Towbes were there (Michael left early, but Anne stayed on to applaud her son, who was the DJ in the disco party room). Penny Jenkins was saw the ribbon cutting but she was without beau Greg Hackenthal, who was home nursing a broken leg.
END NOTES: Supervisor Salud Carbajal tells us he received three applications to fill the Montecito Planning Commission slot left empty by Dick Thielscher. Carbajal told Montage he was surprised, after extensive recruiting, how few applications he received. However, he said he received three excellent candidates: J. W. Colin, a retired business executive; Stephen Murdoch, writer; Jack Overall, VP, Montecito Association. Carbajal said he is in the process conducting interviews and reviewing applications and will announce his appointment in several weeks…..
The February 6 Board of Supervisors’ Agenda will consider a double appeal on Westmont’s major expansion and look for another large Montecito turn out…
Julian Nott will be the featured speaker at UCSB’s Institute for Theoretical Physics on February 7 at 8 p.m. Don’t let the physics part scare you off. Julian is a leading figure in manned balloon design and he is not full of hot air — he tells fascinating stories so don’t miss this high-flying event! For reservations, call 893-4111.