Jeremy Cohen says he's as excited about the long planned resort hotel on the beach in downtown Oceanside as he was a decade ago. And he's hoping to break ground on the project by the end of the first quarter of 2018. He expects construction to begin on the $200 million project next year.
The plans have changed a bit since they first were approved by the City Council in 2005 and have been delayed by government changes, recession and lawsuits.
They consist of two hotels one on either side of Mission Avenue along Pacific Street.
Cohen, vice president of the S. D. Malkin development firm committed to the project, updated the public Friday, May 26, at a forum in the library Community Rooms arranged by City Councilman Jerry Kern and attended by more than 50 people.
He showed how the project has changed since its approval by the City Council in 2005.
Originally, the south side hotel was to be bigger than the north side boutique hotel. Separate entities were expected, and the project was to be phased.
Now, the height of each has been reduced from seven to six floors on the south and from eight to seven on the north, and the number of rooms in each has been equalized, although the total – 384 – remains the same.
Cohen described the south side hotel design as "traditional" and the north side style as "contemporary", and he said he hopes for a single operator for both hotels with a different brand for each one.
He said he no longer wants to do the project in phases due to the time it's already taken. "I didn't have grandchildren," when the process started, he joked. So, he's hoping for a spring opening after a 22 month construction period.
For years, the brand was to be a Westin, but Cohen said that company got tired of waiting and is acquiring a hotel near Legoland in adjacent Carlsbad. But, Cohen said, he should announce a brand in the next 30 days.
He indicated it would be a 4 plus star brand even though he had heard some resistance from companies thinking Oceanside not ready for such a luxury destination.
Cohen said he tells those folks they haven't seen the city recently with its "cool museums and breweries." Still, he said, "we are taking a hell of a gamble." with a project that is "at least two levels up" from anything built here to date.
Cohen said there are only two true full-service resorts on the county coast: the venerable Hotel del Coronado, and, more recently, the Cape Rey Carlsbad.
He described an incident that potential investors once witnessed in the nearby Junior Seau Amphitheater, and said "if we are going to up the level of tourism, we are going to have to up the level of security" as well. He said he plans to work closely with MainStreet Oceanside and Visit Oceanside.
The plans still call for a 6,500 square foot ballroom for events attracting up to 500 people and lots of other smaller spaces for conferences of all sizes.
Included are both coffee shops and upscale restaurants.
Art for the hotel will be curated in cooperation with the Oceanside Museum of Art.
Parking will be underground two levels on the south and one on the north and include spaces under Mission Avenue.
The parking will be accessible from Myers Street (with pedestrian entry to the Conference Center also permitted from Seagaze Drive). There will be no separate public parking spaces, but Cohen said there should be room for beachgoers, who will have to pay a fee).
Councilman Jack Feller had indicated some concern over the parking, and Cohen replied that 500 new spaces should be sufficient.
The block of Mission between Myers and Pacific will be closed for a year, Cohen said.
He answered a question from Carolyn Krammer, who successfully led the fight to defeat a former project proposed on the property by San Diego developer Doug Manchester, by saying a detailed traffic management plan is yet to be worked out,
Cohen said a rooftop bar in the north building will provide not only views of the ocean but of the city skyline and the mountains to the east.
Cohen's plans continue to show the historic Top Gun House, now located on the south lot, moved to the north and used for a public purpose. Cohen noted that the house, seen in the iconic "Top Gun " movie" of more than 25 years ago, also has historic interest as the Graves home, built in Oceanside in 1887.
"You will know construction has begun when you see the Graves house being moved," Cohen said.
He agreed that hotel financing still is a bit hard to obtain but said one company has stuck with Malkin for the past six years and is interested in "special projects," which this one is. And, he said, the election of President Donald Trump has created more confidence in the American economy.
The Malkin company built the Hilton Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego and has worked in this country, Europe and China. "We have done 34 projects and never failed." Cohen said.
Former Mayor Terry Johnson asked about the delays, and Cohen explained the state governmental changes that killed city redevelopment agencies. Oceanside's agency was going to help finance this project with a share of future hotel taxes.
But a lawyer sued, calling that a subsidy of city funds and saying a council meeting on the subject had not clearly notified the public that subsidy was under consideration. The lawsuit failed several court tests.
Cohen noted that the project has received mostly unanimous support from the City Council, and he commented, jokingly, that Oceanside's council is not well known for unanimous votes.
Kern, elected in 2006, said the project predates his term on the council.
Local historian and businessman John Daley said the property once contained hotels but has been vacant for a long time. "you have breathed life into an area that has been dead 30-40 years," Daley said.
Cohen cited the help he has received from former City Manager Peter Weiss and City Attorney John Mullen to keep the project going through all the years.
Cohen is scheduled to make another presentation at the MainStreet Oceanside Morning Meeting on August 1st at 8:30 a.m.