Renovation Planned : El Cortez Hotel Bought by Hotelier Grosvenor

San Diego County Business Editor

A trust controlled by San Diego hotelier Mark Grosvenor has acquired the historic 250-room El Cortez Hotel and annex for about $6 million, sources close to the deal confirmed Friday. The new owner plans to renovate the site for hotel operations or condominiums, sources said.

Grosvenor, who with his father, Judson Grosvenor, owns the 206-room Grosvenor Inn on Sports Arena Boulevard, bought the vacant El Cortez Hotel in December through a trust administered by Home Federal Savings & Loan. Secrecy of ownership was maintained to give Grosvenor time to decide how to redevelop the site without being besieged by "vendors" such as architects and engineers, spokesman Andy Stinson said.

Grosvenor did not return telephone calls yesterday, and Stinson said redevelopment plans for the 15-story structure still will not be complete for four to six weeks. Interested developers once had considered demolishing the structure, but demolition is not among the alternatives being considered by Grosvenor, sources said. The hotel has been closed since 1981.

Built in 1927, the El Cortez occupies a full city block bordered by Seventh and Eighth avenues and Ash and Beech streets. In addition to the hotel tower, the block includes a 93-room hotel annex now leased as dormitory space to Western State University College of Law, said Rob MacMillan, a Coldwell Banker real estate broker who represented the buyer.

A recent study by the Koll Co. determined that renovation of the El Cortez for hotel use would cost between $12 million and $35 million, depending on the class of the new hotel, MacMillan said. The building is structurally sound, but functions such as plumbing, electricity and elevators must be replaced, he said.

Without confirming the rumored $6-million sales price, one source involved in the transaction said the 60,000-square-foot block was sold for the value of the land alone. Downtown land now sells at between $85 and $110 per square foot, he said, making the El Cortez land worth between $5.1 million and $6.6 million.

Sellers were the Bass brothers of Philadelphia, who, in partnership with Denver developer Terry Considine, bought the hotel block and several surrounding parcels in 1981 from evangelist Morris Cerullo. Considine's interest in the partnership was purchased by the Basses last year.

Shortly after buying it, the Basses and Considine began promoting the hotel site for San Diego's new convention center. They proposed leveling the old hotel and replacing it with the convention center and up to 2,000 hotel rooms. The plan died after the city's decision in 1983 to locate the convention center on port land south of the Hotel Inter-Continental.

Since then, the Basses gradually have sold off pieces of the property. The El Cortez is the last parcel in a patchwork that once included parts of five blocks.

Grosvenor bought one of the pieces, the 37-room International Hotel and an adjacent 200-space parking garage northeast of the El Cortez, from the Basses last summer.

Another piece, the old 137-room Travolator hotel just west of the El Cortez, was acquired last year by a partnership headed by Leonard Glass of Encinitas. The building reopened recently as a Howard Johnson's hotel.

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