CITY HALL — Community groups are waging a public relations war over a major overhaul of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, which will get its first official look by the Planning Commission Wednesday night.
Efforts are spearheaded by two opposing organizations, Friends of the Miramar standing for the project and Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion on the other side.
The Wilmont Neighborhood Coalition has also come out for the project, while Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City sent out an e-mail Saturday condemning the project as a “massive mixed-use project” out of place in the neighborhood.
Friends of the Miramar stacked its 25-member steering committee and four co-chairs with two former city managers and three former mayors amongst a host of other community leaders from the education, business and nonprofit sectors.
Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion, on the other hand, has not publicly posted its leadership, although sources say the Huntley Hotel, which is located across the street from the Miramar, is involved and has hired an attorney and a public relations firm specifically for the issue.
Neither group nor hotel representatives returned phone calls for comment by presstime.
Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion sent out a mailer to homes throughout Santa Monica encouraging residents to oppose what it characterizes as an attempt by New York developers to demolish the historic hotel and replace it with a “Las Vegas style hotel-condo-retail complex.”
The mailer included a photo of a massive development perched atop a flaming asteroid and the phrase “Miramarmageddon.”
The hotel’s owner, MSD Capital, disputes many of the claims in the mailer and at the organization’s website, www.savesantamonica.com/
The opposition group turned up the heat six or eight weeks ago, said Alan Epstein, an executive with MSD Capital, an investment arm of Michael Dell, the business magnate who founded Dell Inc. The team addresses each of the allegations in a 38-page letter describing the project submitted to the Planning Commission.
“In order to stir up controversy, they say that the applicant is a New York-based developer,” Epstein said. “The applicant is the owner of the hotel, and has owned it for six years.”
Charges that the project would disrupt a “tranquil residential neighborhood” and that it included a “Hollywood style nightclub” on the roof are untrue, Epstein said.
They did get one right.
“They say we’ll increase retail by 1,200 percent, and numerically, that’s true,” Epstein said.
Right now, the only store in the hotel is a small sundries shop that sells Q-tips and other necessities. The plan would add three other retail stores.
The severity of the attacks surprised Epstein.
“We’re now at a float up stage. We don’t even have a project definition,” Epstein said. “It’s a free country, but this is a little early.”
Not so for Robert Gurfield, who owns a condominium on the 1100 block of Third Street.
The proposed hotel will reach 133 feet tall in some places and block many people’s views of the ocean, decreasing their property values.
It wasn’t what Gurfield expected when he bought his condo six years ago, when he was told by the Planning Department that nothing could get higher than 45 feet.
The next day, he opened escrow on the property.
“Now they’re waffling on that … I feel a little chagrined. I would have had second thoughts about buying this place if I knew the view was not going to be permanent,” Gurfield said.
He’s also concerned with other impacts to the neighborhood, particularly congestion as a result of the up to 120 condominiums that the hotel owners propose to build on the top floors of the hotel.
“Does Santa Monica need more high-end condos?” he asked.
It’s something he hopes the Planning Commission will consider once they look at the project Wednesday.
Proponents of the project see the Miramar’s renovation as an opportunity to fix up the hotel and bring in much-needed revenues to both City Hall and the schools.
Rebecca Kennerly, an education advocate and co-chair of the Community for Excellent Public Schools, also co-chairs the Friends of the Miramar.
Development is not usually her thing, Kennerly said, but she felt that seeing the hotel succeed married two dovetailing interests: Creating a good development in Downtown and creating tax revenues shared with the schools.
“With the way the city and our schools are paired right now, it just seemed like a natural fit,” Kennerly said.
Estimates commissioned by MSD Capital show the revamped hotel bringing in $5 million in revenues to City Hall on top of what the current hotel already provides.