Airport restaurant and city in faceoff
High Sierra Grill & Bar, in Goleta adjacent to Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, is having trouble with its landlord: the city of Santa Barbara.
The restaurant’s owners notified the city on Aug. 15 of their intent to close the restaurant, apparently in an effort to force the city to approve a new lessee for the airport property.
The ownership of High Sierra — a chain with locations throughout California — had been trying to assign the remainder of High Sierra’s lease over to the restaurant’s manager, Warren Butler.
Mr. Butler planned on replacing High Sierra with a flight-theme concept, appropriately named Flightline, once he gained the lease.
The city, however, was hesitant to approve the lease assignment, stemming mainly from who was backing Flightline: aviation company ACI Jet.
“Our concern was that their (ACI Jet’s) interest in this restaurant is that the property is a part of the redevelopment project,” said Airport Business Development Manager Deanna Zachrisson.
The airport, including the northeast portion where High Sierra sits, is undergoing a redevelopment project. Ms. Zachrisson said the aviation companies operating at the airport — Signature Flight Support and Atlantic Aviation — will have to “recompete,” or submit new offers in a competitive process, by mid-2021 to continue working at the redeveloped airport.
If Flightline failed as a restaurant and ACI Jet took on the lease, ACI Jet, as tenants, could have an advantage in this recompetition process due to the venue’s footprint in the midst of the development.
“We tried to put an assurance in there that if ACI later came and wanted to sign a lease in there, we could say no, and we couldn’t get that,” said Ms. Zachrisson.
The landlords and tenants have been negotiating since February.
“Everybody’s losing their patience,” said Mr. Butler, who is frustrated that airport officials object to his financial backer. “It’s America. You can’t tell me where I can take my money from.”
The closing notice was meant to speed things along, he said.
“The intention was to get their (the city’s) attention so that they would move forward,” Mr. Butler said.
The city, however, took the notice seriously.
“We took it at face value,” said Ms. Zachrisson, added that Airport Director Henry Thompson penned a letter to High Sierra’s owners, denying the proposal that includes ACI Jet as an investor.
High Sierra operated with rent relief from the city from May 2018 until the end of May 2019. Mr. Butler said that after the rent relief ended, High Sierra ceased to break even and is operating at a loss.
“And that’s why we need to change it to Flightline,” he said.
“High Sierra has the right to sue them for not dealing with the assignment properly,” he added.
Ms. Zachrisson said the city is hoping to avoid litigation.
The lease, according to Ms. Zachrisson, is for 10 years, with the option of pursuing three 5-year leases if the tenant desires.
“If they say they will close, they’ll be defaulting on the lease,” she said.
High Sierra, at 521 Firestone Road, will remain open “until further notice,” Mr. Butler said. “We hope to remain open as long as we can.”