It’s early, but so far, so good.
The 66-unit hotel project proposed for 710-720 State St. and 15 E. Ortega St. in downtown Santa Barbara received a positive response last week during a concept review by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission.
“I like this project,” Commissioner Cass Ensberg said. “I think it is really interesting. It’s kind of quirky, and I like that.”
Jim Knell, founder and chairman of SIMA Management Company, has proposed the project, which consists of a 32,799-square-foot, four-story, 66-room hotel, with a restaurant and bar, and conference rooms on six lots totaling another 30,004 square feet.
The project also includes 16 parking spaces on the ground floor.
Knell, along with architect Kevin Moore, wants to merge the lots from 710 to 720 State Street and 15 E. Ortega Street.
The commission voted 7-0 to send the proposal to the Santa Barbara Planning Commission for review.
Since it is only in the concept stage, Knell and Moore will take all the feedback and then submit a formal application.
Ensberg said she thoroughly enjoyed the design and encouraged Moore to create a “La Arcata” like archway entrance from State Street.
“It should be proud to be a hotel,” Ensberg said. “I just really want to underscore the idea of making this this unique thing that it is.”
The commissioners wrestled with a few details of the design, but mostly avoided diving too deep into the project at this stage.
Among the questions about the hotel is the functionality. The main entrance won’t be from State Street, which it couldn’t be anyway since State Street is currently closed to cars.
The main vehicular entrance would be through Ortega Street, but it’s unclear how residents would check in.
“These are details to be worked out,” Moor said. “The thinking is a guest could potentially drive into the garage, park temporarily or permanently depending on how busy they are, check-in, and then either be directed to another parking location, or depending on the arrangement, they could leave their car there.”
Knell said his property will be an upper-end boutique hotel, on par with his other hotels, including The Landsby in Solvang.
In 2020, he had proposed a 36-unit housing project roughly along the same footprint, but pulled the project because of city requirements for inclusionary housing and parking.
For now, his decision to switch uses seems like the correct one.
“I think that it’s kind of a homerun,” Commissioner Michael Drury said. “That’s an attractive facade.”It is going in the right direction.