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Editorial: Athens bides its time

Fallout from the global economic downturn of the past year continues to hit locally, especially in communities like Laguna Beach, where hotels and resorts are a major part of the business sector.

The not-unexpected news that Athens Group is suspending its long-planned redevelopment of the Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course property, and adjacent parcels, has brought this to a peak in Laguna.

While we aren’t privy to the details of the decision, it is clear that a number of factors are at play.

For one thing, high-end hotels have been especially hard hit by the recession/depression that the country is slowly pulling out of. Athens develops just that kind of property "” including the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna and another pricey Montage in Beverly Hills.

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It would take a lot of money for Athens to demolish the aging but enjoyable Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course, and build a brand new resort for a ritzier clientele. That “seed" money is obviously difficult to come by in these times. And who would use the luxury property? Take a look at what just happened to the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, a beautiful resort that has been felled by the steep drop in corporate meetings and conferences, as well as luxury tourists who are minding their money.

Athens was also facing stiff opposition from local environmentalists who want to keep the bucolic Aliso Canyon property as pristine as possible, and no doubt gearing up for a City Council fight over the issue in the coming year.

Opponents aren’t declaring victory, of course, as the property is still an attractive parcel for redevelopment, and who knows what the future holds.

As Athens bides its time and chews over the possibilities and pitfalls of redeveloping the property into a state-of-the-art luxury facility, the Canyon Lodge Restaurant, hotel and small golf course will continue to attract visitors with its beautiful setting and low-key comforts, which can’t be replicated anywhere.

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Meanwhile, as a check of the Aliso Creek Inn’s website shows, there are sweet deals for golfers and hotel guests at the site "” as there are at many other Laguna Beach hotels and resorts.



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