GILDING THE LILLY: It’s true I haven’t played
baseball in a long time, but I still know a bean ball when I see
one. And that’s exactly what Beanie Baby billionaire Ty Warner is
throwing these days. But that’s to be expected, I suppose. I am
referring to Warner’s latest and greatest public tantrum in which
he threatened to sell Montecito’s abandoned and dilapidated Miramar
Hotel rather than renovate it, as he recently promised. That’s
because — we are told — Warner has become fed up with the incessant
and sniping demands of the jackals and Lilliputians sitting on the
Montecito Planning Commission and the Montecito Association. These
self-important, self-inflated petty tyrants have the gall to
express opinions contrary to Warner’s about his plans for the Coral
Casino and the Biltmore Hotel — which he also owns. In a word, they
are out to get him. As a result, Warner announced he is selling off
the Miramar, the once beloved dowdy dowager of waterfront hotels.
Naturally, we hear none of this from Warner himself.

Instead we hear it all from Warner’s right-hand man, Greg Rice,
and that’s just the problem. Although Rice clearly deserves an
Oscar for delivering so masterful a performance, much of Warner’s
difficulties derive from his peculiar style of communicating. Which
is to say, he doesn’t personally communicate at all. While Warner
will on occasion mingle anonymously with the little people, it’s
clearly beneath him to engage in any kind of verbal give-and-take.
To do so, presumably, would imply some remote aspect of equality,
and this would not mesh with his carefully cultivated
kooky-but-brilliant-billionaire mystique. In most places, such an
attitude would cause friction; but in Montecito this is especially
true, as its occupants suffer no appreciable shortage of

Ty’s whole Miramar gig has been an act from the start. When he
first bought it, Warner was trying to secure final approval to
renovate the Coral Casino and he was facing some stiff opposition.
He bought the Miramar in part to win friends among the Montecitans,
many of whom felt angry and betrayed regarding the broken promises
made by developer Ian Schrager — of Studio 54’s disco-decadence
fame — to refurbish the blue-roofed hotel. Schrager and his
jet-setting rock-star architect Philippe Starck had charmed the
pants off Montecito to win support for his plans.

When those plans never got built — and when Schrager stopped
returning Montecitan phone calls — the High Hedge Set reciprocated
with the injured fury common to jilted lovers. Warner bought the
Miramar just as he was battling a small but dedicated band of
architectural-historian types who were — and remain — convinced he
would desecrate their temple. Announcement of his purchase brought
the desired results. There may not have been dancing in the
streets, but Montecito’s Red Hat Club assembled en masse on the
Miramar beach and with their bodies spelled out a big “Thank You,”
which was captured from on high in a now famous photograph that’s
since been reprinted in all the local papers. For that brief
moment, few people in Montecito would have cared if Warner put a
McDonald’s in the Coral Casino, and his project sailed through the
county Board of Supervisors.

In recent months, however, Warner’s overweening aesthetic
megalomania has collided with the Montecito taste police about the
design of the beach-access stairways Warner has proposed for the
beach across the street from the Biltmore, which he owns. The
existing stairs need to be replaced, and Warner’s architects
proposed a design consistent with the hotel.

Some people on the Montecito Planning Commission objected that
this gives the impression the stairs and the beach are each
extensions of the Biltmore. The beach belongs to the public, they
said, and it shouldn’t look as if it’s privately owned. They wanted
Warner to change the design. Maybe they could have said it nicer,
but Ty doesn’t like being told what to do. He did what any
self-respecting billionaire who doesn’t like being bossed around
would do. He declared war. He sent out letters to members of the
Coral Casino, who have been trained through the years to salivate
at his command. He sent out letters to members of the Montecito
Country Club — which he also owns — who are now being trained to
salivate at his command. And he sent out letters to the media, who
don’t need to be trained because they salivate at anything. The
obvious plan is to drown the Montecito Planning Commission and the
Montecito Association — which are charged with maintaining some
pretense of architectural order — in the ensuing spit.

The Montecito Association made an odd target. Despite the
rhetorical excess of a few isolated members, the association itself
took no official action on the controversial steps, much to the
harrumphing displeasure of some commissioners who wondered whether
the association was taking a dive or was merely asleep at the
switch. Association big cheese Bob Collector took Warner’s bait
hook, line, and sinker, and spammed everyone in Montecito with a
broadside inflammatory enough to win their sympathy. But it’s
really the Montecito Planning Commission that’s under fire. The new
board is only three years old and is vested by the county
supervisors with some genuine land-use planning power and
authority. As such, it’s well worth the agony developers, like Ty
Warner, face to build in Montecito.

The fact is, Warner will be back with new plans for the Miramar.
Maybe they’ll be timeshare condos, as has been rumored. Certainly,
the approved plans make no financial sense. Because of this, Warner
can’t and won’t sell the hotel. Who in their right mind would buy
if Warner with all his loot couldn’t make it work? And if he
couldn’t hang with Montecito’s stringent environmental review
process, who else could? Warner will be back with his new plans,
but they��ll have to be approved by the Planning Commission. But by
then, he’s hoping his gambit plays off — that everyone will be so
mad at the Planning Commission that the commissars will tuck their
legs between their tails and slink impotently off. Nice try, Ty,
but you forgot one thing. Baseball season is still months away.


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