Athens Group scotches rumor it is leaving town

-- 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

Colony Hotel.