By Joe Tash
New landscaping, creation of a chef’s garden and enlargement of an outdoor Jacuzzi are among proposed changes by the new owners of The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe which were approved by the Rancho Santa Fe Association at a board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 2.
Representatives of JMI Realty, which purchased the 90-year-old hotel in April for $28 million, attended Thursday’s Association board meeting to outline the first phase of a $12 million renovation project. After listening to a presentation by JMI Senior Vice President Jim Chatfield, the Association board unanimously gave conceptual approval to a list of proposed upgrades.
Final approval for the work must still be granted by the Association Art Jury, which is working with The Inn’s new owners. Some interior work, such as renovations to most of the property’s 107 guest rooms and alterations to the lobby, bar and restaurant, does not require Association approval, said an Association staff report.
JMI is also working with the Art Jury to finalize plans for changes to the historic hotel’s main entryway, and a proposed cover over an outdoor dining area.
Chatfield said the renovations will begin in earnest after Labor Day, and the goal is to complete the work by Memorial Day 2013.
“The bones are there,” said Gordon MacMitchell, the hotel’s new general manager. “It’s a very unique and special product now, and it will be a whole new ball game 10 months from now.”
Association board members said they are pleased to see the investment the new owners are making to upgrade The Inn, and looking forward to seeing the completed work.
“Many of us can’t wait until you upgrade those rooms to put our in-laws in there,” said board president Roxana Foxx.
According to the staff report, the work approved in concept by the Association board includes:
• Front lawn, which faces the Village: Alteration to plantings; creation of additional seating areas; addition of hardscape; and slight leveling of a lawn for functions.
• Interior garden courts: Landscaping and hardscape are proposed to be renovated in several interior courtyards for the purposes of improving the appearance; screening guest spaces; creating locations where weddings could be held and improving pedestrian circulation; creation of a chef’s garden for classes and al-fresco dining; tie-ups for trail riders.
• Azalea court (off La Gracia): Adding enhanced paving; adding trellises to facades; landscaping.
• Pool area: Slightly enlarge the Jacuzzi; enhancing an arched entry; removal of locker area.
Among the goals of the exterior renovations, said Chatfield, is to create places where guests can relax in an outdoor setting, including the addition of lawn furniture and outdoor seating. Future plans could include afternoon barbecues in which guests arrive via horseback on the Covenant’s trail system.
“We think that could really set us apart as a hotel,” he said.
In response to questions from the board, John Kratzer, JMI president and CEO and a Rancho Santa Fe resident, said efforts are underway to aggressively market The Inn to potential customers. The new owners have also hired an expert in social media marketing to get the word out, said MacMitchell, the general manager.
Part of the marketing effort will be promoting Rancho Santa Fe as a desirable destination, Kratzer said. “Our greatest amenity is the geographic positioning of the hotel in the community,” he said.
Before launching the renovation effort, said Chatfield, JMI set up a team to focus on The Inn’s “branding,” and came up with the following key pillars, or elements to be emphasized: comfortable, sophisticated, romance, intimate, at the heart of the community, essence of Rancho Santa Fe.
As the renovation progresses, Chatfield said, the efforts will be judged against those pillars.
JMI purchased The Inn in partnership with Siguler Guff, a New York-based real estate investment firm. JMI was founded by John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres and a well-known businessman and philanthropist. The company is now owned by Moores and Kratzer, according to JMI’s website, with offices in San Diego and Austin, Texas.
Among the company’s major projects was development of downtown San Diego’s ballpark district around Petco Park.