Jim Knell says he will pull his proposal if street doesn’t reopen to traffic
Patrons of The Pressroom have two or three years to watch their beloved soccer games while drinking and dining at the popular English-style pub in downtown Santa Barbara.
The same goes for Restoration Hardware, where customers will still be able to shop for their high-end furniture and home decor.
That’s how long developer and landlord Jim Knell estimates it will take before his proposal to build a four-story, 66-room hotel at 710 State St. winds its way through Santa Barbara’s review process and obtains final approval.
And if city officials don’t remove the outdoor dining parklets and open lower State Street to vehicular traffic by then, the two businesses could continue to operate a whole lot longer than that.
Guests of his proposed hotel must be able to drive up in front, park their cars and register, as they do at every other luxury hotel, Mr. Knell insisted in a recent interview with the News-Press.
If that doesn’t happen, he said, “I’ll pull it.”
His proposed 32,799-square-foot hotel with restaurant/bar and conference rooms would go on six lots totalling more than 30,000 square feet on the 700 block of State Street, on the side closest to Anacapa Street.
The project would include the demolition of the buildings housing The Pressroom at 15 E. Ortega St. and Restoration Hardware at 710 State St.
Mr. Knell originally planned to build residential apartments on the site but withdrew his proposal because of the city’s affordable housing requirements and parking restrictions, he said.
James Rafferty, owner of the Press Room, celebrated at the time, announcing in May that he had signed a new 10-year lease.
Mr. Knell, however, had architect Kevin Moore re-envision and redraw the plans for a hotel, this time set in an outdoor paseo setting that would include other businesses/eateries.
“It’s a great location,” Mr. Knell said. The current proposal, still in the conceptual stage, “is a lot better than the apartments. It’s similar in style but has much more upgrades. It will upgrade State Street.”
The Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission was suitably impressed by the newly redrawn project and enthusiastically sent it to the city Planning Commision for its review and consideration. There’s “no date certain” as to when that will happen, Mr. Knell said.
He noted that the lease negotiated by him and Mr. Rafferty includes a buy-out option in which he would pay Mr. Rafferty an unspecified amount to leave the Press Room’s current location on Ortega Street.
“They have a right to relocate, and we pay them a fee,” Mr. Knell said. “They have a nice little business there, but it’s not the highest or best use for the space.”
Mr. Knell said that if necessary, he would provide Mr. Rafferty with another space to rent for the Press Room. But he added he does not have any vacancies right now. “If one becomes available I’m open to it,” Mr. Knell said. “I have no problems with the tenant.”
Mr. Rafferty did not respond to repeated requests from the News-Press for comment or reaction.
Restoration Hardware’s situation differs from the Press Room, Mr. Knell said. The furniture business, he said, has a month-to-month lease and would not be paid to vacate its current site if and when the hotel project is approved.
Mr. Knell said they might be interested in staying in Santa Barbara, but doubted that they do it anywhere on State Street given the problems he and others say exist along the city’s main thoroughfare.
“They are saddened by what they see on State Street,” Mr. Knell said. “It no longer fits the culture of Restoration Hardware.”
Restoration Hardware’s corporate headquarters did not respond to a News-Press email seeking comment.
Mr. Knell said he is more angered than saddened by State Street’s current condition, noting he “absolutely” agrees with his tenant, Kelly Brown, owner of The Natural Cafe, who announced he is closing his restaurant at the end of March.
Mr. Brown said it’s bad enough that more and more people work remotely now instead of going to work downtown where they might stop by for lunch. On top of that, he said, State Street now hosts many homeless people, some of whom aggressively panhandle, urinate in planters and against buildings and drink alcohol or use illegal drugs in public. In addition, the street has rats that feed off of food dropped from the outdoor dining parklets and speeding bicyclists who ride too close to pedestrians, Mr. Brown said.
Mr. Knell is particularly incensed by the continued presence of the parklets, which he says are allowed in front of retailers without their permission. “It’s wrong.”
Likewise, he criticized city officials for making the Aloha Fun Center add more bathrooms “yet allow restaurants to expand on Street Street in size (because of the parklets) and not have an issue with bathrooms. It’s just wrong.”
Mr. Knell said he understands that overnight guests at his proposed hotel would have to park on site, now set for the rear of the building, but balked at new guests having to check in behind the building instead of in front.
“With the apartments, I wasn’t that concerned about them going through the back of the building,” he said. “But I don’t want them to have to go to the rear of the property to check in. If they have to enter at the rear of the property because they can’t park in front, I’ll pull it.”