Last week, Santa Barbara real estate investor Ray Mahboob bought the former El Torito restaurant for $7.2 million. The deal is the second major Funk Zone acquisition for Mahboob — who has extensive commercial and residential holdings throughout the South Coast — in the past six months. This gives Mahboob an acre of Funk Zone real estate with 200 feet of waterfront space and 55 parking spaces just as the area is poised to go stratospheric in terms of real estate values.
The nearby Hotel Californian luxury hotel project, 20 tortuous years in the making, is about seven months from opening, and the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (MOXI) — TV mogul Dick Wolf’s science museum for kids — is about to flip the switch. In addition, Tony Romasanta is beginning construction on another hotel on the site of the former Be Bop Burgers.
Mahboob is typically a low-profile player, but in recent months, he’s been anything but. Six months ago, he paid more than $5 million in cash to buy the 16 Helena Avenue property that’s been home to the Santa Barbara Surf Museum the past 33 years. He did so even though the property was the target of a lawsuit filed by the Taylor family, owners of 29 Cabrillo Boulevard— the site of El Torito, which closed suddenly last year — contending they had parking rights on the Helena Avenue property. Typically, such lawsuits cast dark shadows that discourage investor interest. Mahboob proceeded anyway and quickly offered to buy out the six out-of-town owners while simultaneously turning up the legal heat. He’d scheduled depositions for all six, he said, shortly before they agreed to sell.
Mahboob said he’s currently in the process of starting a Funk Zone Owners Association to navigate future development for the popular destination with City Hall in terms of traffic and parking requirements. So sure was he that the deal would pan out that he signed leases with two restaurants — both local he said, one Mexican and the other Japanese — before the sale was consummated.