New resort owner shares thoughts on Laguna

Barbara Diamond

Alan Fuerstman no sooner announced his company's purchase of The

Laguna Beach Colony resort than he began house hunting in Laguna Beach.

"I am excited to be here, a part of this community and helping to

create a resort community that the residents will be proud of," Fuerstman

said.

Fuerstman's company, Montage Hotels and Resorts partnered with

developer Athens Group and unnamed investors to buy the 30-acre

oceanfront property for $190 million, a number that must have Merrill

Lynch real estate trust investors shaking their heads. The trust sold the

property for an estimated $47 million.

The most recent sale was announced June 21. Fuerstman declined to name

the investors.

"Athens and Montage are the active participants, the other investors

are passive," he said.

Athens Group will continue to oversee development of the 30-acre

resort, which includes a 260-room hotel, 14 condominiums, 14

single-family lots, restaurants, a ball room, a public park and parking

on what is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular sites in

the world. Fuerstman's company will operate the resort.

Fuerstman founded Montage Hotels & Resorts in January. He is the

president and chief executive officer. The company was originally called

the Platinum Hotel Group and renamed just before the purchase of the

Laguna Beach property closed, according to Montage community liaison Ned

Snavely.

The name is expected in time to conjure up the image of a montage of

hotels and resorts that are very special.

Montage will have offices in Laguna Beach as well as the one in

Nevada, where Fuerstman previously worked as a vice president of

operations of a Las Vegas hotel.

"This will be the first hotel I've ever owned, but I have operated

some terrific properties," he said. "I was the managing director of the

Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., and vice president of hotel operations

at Bellagio in Las Vegas."

Fuerstman left the Bellagio in September 2000 to form his own

hospitality group, the foundation for Montage.

Fuerstman spent his early years in the industry with Marriott

International Inc., from whom his company bought the Laguna Beach

property.

However, he is no stranger to Orange County. Fuerstman worked from

1978 to 1984 at the Newport Beach Marriott hotel, during which time he

lived on Balboa Island where he met and married his wife, Susan, a

teacher.

"I've been meeting some people and everyone has been very welcoming,"

Fuerstman said.

The Laguna Beach project was well underway when Fuerstman's company

bought the property and he sees no reason to tamper.

"Athens Group had done the heavy lifting," Fuerstman said. "They

provided the road map for the theme of the resort. They have done a

terrific job and the hotel will be completed as planned. I am pleased

with the results so far and I am looking forward to finishing the

project."

The resort theme is craftsman-style, lifted from the bungalows that

dot the Laguna Beach landscape. A craftsman-style trellis shelters the

entrance and leads to a lobby with a drop-dead panorama of the Pacific

Ocean.

Although nothing outshines the natural splendor of the site, the

potential profits are breathtaking. Sale of the condominiums and

single-family lots will begin this fall and are expected to generate from

$70 million -- if the condos sell for a measly $2 million each and the

estate lots go for a mere $3 million each -- to $120 million at $3

million per condo and $5 million per lot. In cash.

"I would like to see the resort open in January, but I am comfortable

saying the first quarter of 2003," Fuerstman said. "I want to tie down an

actual date to set up ceremonies and properly introduce the resort to the

community."

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