A World Apart
Behind a leafy veil of eucalyptus trees and a small rise, the county's largest-ever commercial development is beginning to take shape.
There's no hint to motorists zooming along Highway 101 just west of Goleta that work on the $200 million, 400-room Santa Barbara Club Spa and Resort is very much in progress.
In about two months, project managers expect bulldozers to level land for the first hotel guest buildings above the part of coast commonly known as Haskell's beach.
After that, the project's supervisors say, workers will pour concrete foundations for the buildings, and their wooden frameworks will go up. At the same time, land will be leveled for more of the resort's 28 structures, and concrete slurry will gush into their foundation forms.
Representatives of the ADCO Group of New York, which owns the 73-acre property, say the surge of activity is a sure thing because the investment firm Salomon Smith Barney has signed a commitment letter for a $112 million long-term loan.
Alvin Dworman, the owner of ADCO, and Salomon could complete negotiations next month, said consultant John Tynan, who represents the landholder.
Dworman used his own money to launch the project last year, and expects to spend at least $50 million before it's completed, said Tynan.
The land was purchased by Dworman in 1968. He has invested at least $20 million on site infrastructure work so far. About $6 million went for construction of a mile-long entrance road and two bridges. About $3 million was paid to the Goleta Water District for enough supplies to fill six-inch-wide pipelines for drinking water and reclaimed water for landscape irrigation. He also put down about $6 million in cash deposits with the county for performance bonds.''We have deep pockets,'' Tynan said. ''It's a very special project for him - it's Santa Barbara and personal pride."
Now, with the long-term lending, ``it's all coming together,'' Tynan said. ''We're right on schedule."
The grand opening is set to occur by the end of 1999.
A hotel company has yet to be selected to run the place. But that's not a worry, Tynan said.
Dworman is being courted by ''all the operators that are five-star quality,''Tynan said. ''He's definitely in the driver's seat."
The resort is meant to appeal to senior managers of large corporations needing a posh place where they can do business, as well as the very rich simply seeking a sumptuous retreat. Rooms are to cost $400 or so a night. P>The beachfront property has a crucial quality for an exclusive haven: It's beyond easy public view.
Project manager Joshua Leach said the entire design is geared to make guests feel like they're in their own world.
They will travel along the entrance road that spans two creeks and slices through a sizable hill to get to the resort's reception buildings.
Plans show that the guest rooms and suites will cascade in steps down a slope from which only hills, the beach, the sea, an offshore oil platform and the Channel Islands are visible.
At the east end of the property is a hill - topped by an off-limits Chumash Indian burial ground - that blocks out the sight of the urbanized South Coast, including the nearby but out-of-view Venoco oil and gas treatment plant.
Architects are wrapping up designs for the first Spanish/Mediterranean-style guest buildings, and working on the rest, Leach said.
They include 50,000 square feet of conference and entertainment space, a 36,000-square-foot health spa, three restaurants, a tennis pro shop and court complex, swimming pools and a beach house.
The Salomon Smith Barney loan allows for the construction of all 28 buildings.
ADCO's public relations releases also tout Dworman's 1,000-acre ranch just across Highway 101 where guests can picnic, hike and ride mountain bikes or horses.
Work on the resort began last year in order to meet a deadline set in the county's project permits.
After a May groundbreaking, construction began on the entry road from Hollister Avenue, which includes the two substantial bridges. With no financing at the time, ADCO footed the bill.
The bridges are now finished. The hotel's 700-space parking lot has been graded. The road is about 75 percent done, and is slated for completion next month. Then trucks can begin bringing in construction materials, Leach said.
As soon as the financing package is completed, ''there will be a lot more activity,'' Leach said. ''There will be a lot of people putting in a lot of long days on construction. It'll be very tightly scheduled."
Dworman, whose initials form the name of his privately held investment company, wants to build the kind of resort that he likes to go to for networking with ''people like himself,'' Tynan said.
Toward that end, ADCO recently entered an agreement to spend at least $5 million to renovate the nearby Sandpiper Golf Course. Improvements are planned for the clubhouse, fairways and greens, said Tynan. ADCO also will manage the course, which is on the coast just east of the resort site.
Santa Barbara Resort and Spa is also negotiating for an operating agreement with the recently opened Glen Annie Golf Course, which is off Cathedral Oaks Road, about three miles from the resort.
Its luxury features include individual satellite nagivation monitors in the golf carts to direct players around the course.
Tynan said the resort also hopes to enter ''some sort'' of special arrangements for guests at the Arco Dos Pueblos Link's golf course, which is proposed for coastal bluffs just west of the resort property.
The resort's business ties to the nearby golf links ''was a marriage waiting to happen,'' Tynan said.
The connection is vital because the resort's target guest groups consider challenging golf in gorgeous settings a virtual necessity for their social and corporate functions.''Their expectation for staying at a five-star hotel is playing on five-star courses. That's the key ... so you'll have that international group business,'' Tynan said. "Santa Barbara will be able to compete with places like Palm Springs."