40 years in the remaking, La Bahia names its hotel reopening date: Fall 2024

A sandcastle along Beach Street reflected the design of the luxury hotel planned for the La Bahia property.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The 155-room terraced luxury hotel near the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been in the planning stages for some time. But at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony along Beach Street, developers set an opening date for a property that has seen decades of starts and stops.

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When Kam Babaoff, chairman and co-founder of Ensemble Real Estate Investments, took the podium at the groundbreaking of the historic La Bahia hotel on Wednesday afternoon, he mentioned that the iconic bell-tower structure behind him had been sitting in limbo for 20 years.

After Babaoff spoke, Karl Rice, president of the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, the property’s owner and partner with Ensemble in the new hotel, corrected Babaoff’s math.

“Incidentally,” said Rice, “it’s been 40 years since this site has been mainly sitting as it is.”

For 40 years — that’s seven U.S. presidents (and counting) — La Bahia has been slowly deteriorating before the eyes of generations of Santa Cruz locals and vacationing out-of-towners, on a lot that represents one of the most picturesque beachfront properties in all of California. And now, finally, finally, La Bahia has a future.

That was the message Wednesday when officials from Ensemble — the owners and managers of the Dream Inn just down the street — and the Seaside Co. hosted an official event outside the Cocoanut Grove, celebrating the construction of a new luxury hotel that incorporates the salvaged bell tower. It’s a new accommodation that promises a terraced luxury hotel of 155 rooms, along with a couple of new restaurants.

Surrounded by renderings of what the new hotel would look like, as well as an impressive sandcastle built to reflect the hotel’s design, officials from Ensemble, Seaside and the project’s construction contractor, Barry Swenson Builders, were exuberant about the prospects for La Bahia. But some of those present, who had been around for those long decades of starts and stops, ups and downs, expressed a sense of relief.

Developers are aiming to open the luxury hotel at the La Bahia property in fall 2024.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Speaking before a select group of about 150 people, including many past and present political leaders, the speakers answered the question many had wondered about: When will the new luxury hotel open?

Seaside’s Rice has been asked regularly day after day about La Bahia for a decade. On Wednesday, he expressed the relish of a man who finally has a real answer.

“Mark your calendars,” Rice said. “Two years from right now. Right now.” That’s fall 2024.

After 40 years floating in bureaucratic and commercial purgatory, two years sounded like warp speed.

Karl Rice, president of the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, speaks during Wednesday's groundbreaking.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

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