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Slick Rick Dodging the Miramar

Blue Roofs on My Mind


TY, WE NEED YOU: If Rick Caruso thinks he can round up the $1 billion-plus to buy the L.A. Dodgers, why can’t he find a few hundred million to rebuild the Miramar?

If critics hadn’t caused Ty Warner to throw up his hands in disgust and sell the blue-roofed beach resort to Caruso in 2007, a new Miramar would likely be up and running by now, pumping gobs of sales and bed taxes into the county and tourist cash into the local economy. Jobs, too.

Ty had the hotel experience, the money to restore the wreck, and the smarts to make it into what he saw as a family-oriented hotel instead of the glitzy five-star celeb hangout previous owner Ian Schrager had in mind when he began razing the place.

Barney Brantingham

But Ty, who paid a reported $43 million to hotelier-to-the-stars Schrager, threw in the towel in November 2006, stung by a new round of toxic criticism and a letter-writing campaign just before a key hearing before the Montecito Association. His spokesperson lashed out at what he called an “abuse of power by a handful of decision-makers.”

Caruso soon stepped in. Caruso, a Los Angeles shopping mall owner, now up to his ears in trying to buy the Dodgers and supposedly thinking of running for mayor of L.A., might be open to peddling the wreck that used to be the Miramar. But my sources say Ty has no interest in taking it back.

Caruso, a rich man’s son who owns the cash cow The Grove shopping center, shelled out a reported $50 million to take the resort off Ty’s hands. Caruso then fought his way through the thicket of land-use agencies, neighbors, and critics and now has an approved plan for 186 rooms.

Caruso has no experience building or running a resort, or for that matter running a major-league baseball team. But then, who has? His competition to buy the Dodgers includes ex-Lakers star Magic Johnson, former Dodgers stars Orel Hershiser and Steve Garvey, former owner Peter O’Malley (why the heck did he sell the team in the first place?), Barry Bonds’s ex-agent, assorted very rich men to whom a billion is just something to spend on a high-profile hobby, and a group that includes an ex-Dodgers batboy. And now the Disney family is getting into the act.

Bids are due January 23. Major League Baseball will then choose up to 10 finalists. It will then be up to dishonored Dodger owner Frank McCourt to pick the top Dodger dog. In what’s seen as a major coup, Caruso wisely announced last week that former Dodger manager Joe Torre is joining his team.

Since Frank and Joe had a fairly congenial relationship, one can see McCourt leaning Caruso-Torre’s way. But when the chips are counted, McCourt figures to go for whoever hits the top-dollar home run.

As for the Miramar, once a beloved and affordable resort on a great beach, it’s languished as a sad heap of eyesore wreckage for the past decade. There’s no indication when Caruso will be able to come up with the construction bucks. (Dodger bucks, yes.) His permit runs through April 6, 2015.

TY’S BUCKS: Ty’s a dropout from Kalamazoo College who became a salesman. Due to Beanie Babies, he’s now worth $2.4 billion, according to Forbes (down from $4.5 billion in 2007).

In 2009, Ty’s hotels, including the Four Seasons Biltmore and San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, “weren’t generating enough cash flow to qualify for an automatic extension of their mortgage,” according to the Wall Street Journal — not without Warner making concessions. He ended up paying “$35 million of the loans’ balance to win a two-year reprieve. Now, with cash flow up 300 percent since 2009” (what recession?), Ty’s “obtained new loans for his hotels … according to people familiar with the loans,” the WSJ said.

Cottage Hospital courtyard
Click to enlarge photo

Sue De Lapa

Cottage Hospital courtyard

NOT COTTAGE CHEESY: There is no operating room No. 13 in the new wing at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. There are 15 of the ORs, jumping from No. 12 to No. 14, then 15 and 16. Not just the operating rooms, but everything in the new section unveiled to the public last week is cutting-edge in more ways than one. Every patient room will be private, with a large, flat-screen TV and a sofa that converts to a double bed for a family sleep-over. There are 12 birthing rooms, each with a Jacuzzi tub — to be used during labor, not delivery. All patients will be moved over from the existing wing on February 12, but work on the $700-million project will continue until 2017.

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Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.

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