-- Barbara Diamond
A spokesman for Athens Group flatly denied Thursday that the company
is pulling out of the Laguna Beach Colony resort project.
“We can’t and won’t comment on rumors of a sale, but Athens Group is
not leaving town,” said John Mansour, vice president of development for
Athens Group and a homeowner here.
Rumors have surfaced recently in town that the company had sold the
oceanfront project. Athens Group is the developer of the project and a
minority owner. Although the company represents the project in
negotiations with the city, Marriott International is the majority owner.
Marriott representative Darren Lennartz could not be reached by press
time for comment on a possible sale.
“Athens Groups plans to deliver the five-star resort community
envisioned from the beginning,” Mansour said. “We will keep the promise
we made to the people of Laguna.”
Athens Group has labored to overcome opposition to the project, which
ousted longtime residents from the former mobile home park known as
Treasure Island and led to a divisive special election. The project was
approved by 55 percent of the voters.
Since then, Athens Group has made a concentrated attempt to boost its
image in town, adding park land to the project and contributing to
charity events auction packages of invitations to the opening ceremonies
of the hotel, scheduled for January 2003, and complimentary stays.
However, escalating park costs reinvigorated hostilities. A cap was
placed on the costs at the May 7 City Council meeting.
Rumors of a sale may have been triggered by Athens Group request at
that meeting for modifications to the development agreement that included
the stipulation that the hotel would be operated as a five-star hotel,
but allowed for a change in operator.
The Luxury Group, which operates The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. and
Bvlgari Hotels and Resorts, is the operator of record of the Laguna Beach