SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The three year remodeling project at 1127 Coast Village Road is seen as an economic "shot in the arm" for the scenic retail and restaurant drive where Santa Barbara meets Montecito.
Coast Village Plaza had a ribbon cutting Friday afternoon with over 100 people gathered around the new spiral staircase connecting the street level to the lower courtyard.
Mayor Helene Schneider was flanked by developers Herb Hurst, Rich Rosin, and Councilman Gregg Hart as she used her oversized scissors to snap the ribbon (after a couple of tries.)
Congressman Salud Carbajal also attended and was credited or making connections to move the project forward when he was a First District Santa Barbara County Supervisor.
H & R Investments purchased the property in 2014 for an estimated $13-million dollars. Rosin says the structure had more redevelopment needs than they had envisioned.
"The building was tired," said Rosin. "People were looking for space and it didn't lend itself to that."
The upgraded look includes a new roof, decking, lighting, signage, interior improvements, landscaping and an elevator.
Several supports were also strengthened.
Overall, the site is about 20,000 square feet of retail and office space.
Rosin beamed at the finished product saying, "we are very happy with the results."
While the address is widely viewed as Montecito, it is officially in the City of Santa Barbara. City planners and council members reviewed all aspects of the project before it was approved.
It is located at the center of the glitzy drive between the Santa Barbara waterfront and Olive Mill Road.
Part of the project approval involved removing and replacing specific trees as part of the aesthetic beautification.
Nearby several other developments are underway including a mixed use building on the eastern end of the street (replacing the 76 gas station), and two new restaurants in the Montecito Inn, Frankland's Crab & Co. and the Monarch.
Oliver's restaurant recently opened across the street, after several years of construction.
The Honor Bar at 1255 Coast Village Road replaced a longtime nursery at that site to compliment some of the other established businesses nearby including Lucky's Steakhouse and Jeannine's Restaurant and Bakery.
Coast Village Plaza has moved Here's the Scoop gelato and ice cream from a lower level spot to a street level unit next to Giovanni's Pizza, Richie the Barber, Riviera Smiles, The Tennis Shop, UPS and Norvell Cleaners.
New businesses at the site include Renaud's Patisseire and Bistro (opening in Spring 2018) and the Juice Ranch (opening in December.)
On the lower level will be an offshoot of the Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle restaurant owned by Jerry Lee who had an eight-year career at the nearby exclusive San Ysidro Ranch. He currently has a location in the Santa Barbara Public Market.
The new restaurant will be called Khao Kaeng. Lee says it stands for "curry on rice" in Thai. The food chef Nui grew up in Thailand.
In the lower level area there will be seating inside and in an outside patio.
"We looked at this spot before he renovation and said 'that's not going to fit,'" said Lee. "One day we came back after the renovation and said 'whoa this is us!'"
He believes, even with nearby restaurant choices, there will be a solid business. "The clientele I have built in this town, the word of mouth, I feel the excitement from the community."
Next door is a vacant space the owners would like to be another restaurant that would compliment the existing businesses and utilize the patio to bring more foot traffic to both levels.
Renaud's will be located on the upper corner location at the eastern end of the building. "It is great exposure," said owner Renaud Gonthier. "It's a cozy space for us. A bistro is a tiny space, warm and comfortable. People like that." He plans to have outside seating with colorful umbrella's.
Renaud's has two other Bistro locations in Santa Barbara serving pastries, coffee, breakfast and lunch. The new Coast Village Plaza location is expected to have additional items.
The changes on Coast Village Road come at a time when downtown Santa Barbara, once the centerpiece of the city's retail strength, has had a setback. Recently there were an estimated 50 vacancies. A new report shows the number improving but still a concern at 29 open sites. Some are leased but not approved for the new business plans at this time.
Santa Barbara has added staff members to help business owners complete their required design approvals and permitting on a faster track.
Larger vacancies of concern are the Macy's store at the Paseo Nuevo and the soon to be vacated Saks OFF 5th store at 1001 State Street.
Recently more police, VIP officers (Volunteer in Policing), ambassadors, and community liaison workers have been added to the street to deal with nuisance crimes including panhandling, disturbing the peace, loitering, and shoplifting.
A recent city financial report showed sale taxes in the last fiscal year dropped below projections. New businesses including the Hotel Californian at the lower end of State Street are expected to help in that area and the slumping Transient Occupancy Tax base. The TOT fell, according to the city, due to weaker hotel occupancy and strict new enforcements on neighborhood vacation rentals.
The state of the business economy and efforts to deal with quality of life issues are key debate issues in the ongoing election for mayor and council seats, and analysts say they may be the turning point for some voters.
The mail-in election is underway. Election day is November 7. The city has 48,000 registered voters.
Close to downtown, areas including the Funk Zone and the Haley Street corridor, continue to have completed projects for restaurants, retail, tasting rooms and housing.
The upper State Street area has several large scale housing projects underway which will be an economic boost there, but longtime residents are expressing frustration with traffic impacts.