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Q&A with Margaret Cafarelli
updated: Mar 22, 2014, 4:00 PM

By Phuong-Cac Nguyen

On one of winter's rare rainy days a few weeks ago, Urban Developments' founder and managing partner Margaret Cafarelli is dressed in gray and black, and the colors would accurately match what it looks and feels like outside if it weren't for the oversized construction-site vest in Day-Glo green and orange she has on over her sweater. She flashes a smile that competes with the brightness of her outfit. Cafarelli has reason to be happy on this gray day: Her multi-use development project Alma del Pueblo is almost ready for tenants and the public.

If you build it, they will come: Urban Developments' Margaret Cafarelli.
(Alex Kacik)

Alma del Pueblo sits behind the Arlington Theatre at the corner of West Victoria and Chapala streets and is comprised of two properties: 37 high-end condominium units that range from studios to two bedrooms, and the Santa Barbara Public Market, an expansive 15,000-square-foot space dedicated to the art of gastronomy with 4,300 square feet of refrigerated space in the basement so that vendors won't have to store their perishable food off-site. The buildings, which are linked by a footbridge, have been designed to be highly energy efficient, with Cafarelli aiming for gold LEED certification on the market side and platinum for the residences.

The market is a vision inspired by the grand food halls and centers of other metropolitan cities: Borough Market in London, Pike Place in Seattle and the foodie havens of Madrid, and has an area dedicated to cooking classes and demonstrations. Public markets usually showcase a diverse array of independent merchants, and keeping true to this spirit, Cafarelli chose a mix of vendors that are mostly local and who will sling everything from flowers (Forager's Pantry) to flour (Crazy Good Bread Co.).

During an on-site tour of the work in progress, Cafarelli proudly points out small architectural details of Alma del Pueblo designed to mirror elements of its prestigious neighbor, the Arlington Theatre. The idea was to make it seem like the walls of Alma del Pueblo rose right alongside the Arlington Theatre, thus banishing any memories of the site's former life as a Vons grocery store into long-gone history.

Santa Barbara Public Market tenants will move into their spaces next week, with an official grand opening slated to happen sometime in April. Residents of Alma del Pueblo can also move in next month. Mission and State spoke with Cafarelli about what she says is her "legacy project" for Santa Barbara.

Mission and State: What were the challenges you faced when developing this property?

Margaret Cafarelli: We had a few delays with construction, which is typical, nothing huge, but with the public market, we had to have [the Santa Barbara Public Market tenants] on the same page. And when you have that many people and they're all passionate, small businesspeople that are either operating a wholesale business or a retail business, it's difficult… We had an architect working with each of them on layouts. We would get information, and in some cases, they might want to change the information.

Architecturally, we wanted to make sure that everyone was able to express themselves. I didn't want [the spaces] all to look the same. Now, a lot of those spaces have white subway tile, but it's just a clean way to do it. But everything's going to look different-different lighting, different signage. I wanted to stay true to the process so we could execute pretty seamlessly on their behalf. They couldn't use their own architect; they had to use our architect, and they couldn't use their own contractor. So there was a lot of sitting down and going through numbers and explaining.

There was a project adjacent [to Alma del Pueblo] that the owners of the Arlington Theatre had before the Historical Landmarks Commission that I appealed, and I appealed it for a few reasons. And one of which was that they were reducing the number of parking spaces and they were building at-grade parking and not being required to put parking underground. I'm very much in favor of them building the apartments; I just felt that at-grade parking lots are not very contextual and not very sustainable… you want to encourage people to walk. And you don't want to look at cars, you want to look at buildings. You want to have a more vibrant streets cape.

We were also bringing this at a time right after there had been Measure B-the height limit. And so everyone was freaked out about [luxury condo complex] Chapala One because it was so big, and here we're building another big project. So, we really looked at how we could make this building feel like it had always been there. So these are really like one-story buildings from the street…and then you can see we stepped the buildings back at the corners; we canted the entrance. And the rooflines are undulating, and then when you come to the third floor, the building comes in even more. So, you see this sort of cascading. And we think it's really sensitive to the Arlington, so when you're at the light at Victoria and State streets going west, you barely see the rooftops as you're looking at the Arlington.

Alma del Pueblo was designed to complement the architecture of the Arlington Theatre. (Alex Kacik)

The site is very unique, especially because of its size.

We think this is really an irreplaceable piece of real estate. It had two things: the commercial piece, because it had a 20,900-square-foot grocery store on it, so I was allowed by right to build. I was then allowed to add another 3,000 square feet. The commercial component was key to this being successful.

It needed that mixed-use piece for me to want to do it. And being it was C-2 [mixed-use] zoning, we knew we could get housing, it was just a matter of how much. And being next to the Arlington, it's a historic landmark that we had to be sensitive to and wanted to be sensitive to. We wanted this building to look like it had always been next to the Arlington Theater.

You've had experience in various types of developments through Urban Developments in San Francisco as well. What did you have to tweak to make this project work for the Santa Barbara community?

This is the first time I've ever done a public market. The thing that is the most difficult in doing a project like this in Santa Barbara is that you can't get the same density that you can get in other urban cities. And so, inherently it makes the housing more expensive to the end user. I originally came to the city with 60 units, and they were smaller units by design, and the building was one story taller. But they were smaller units, which would've made them more affordable. I've taken a lot of hits on Noozhawk and Edhat.com, selling these units for a million dollars-plus; but I'm not left with any other alternative because I can't get the density out of the project.

Excerpt provided by Mission and State. Read the full article at MissionAndState.org


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