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Remaking Santa Monica Place: Take Two:

Over 100 community members gathered at Santa Monica Place (SMP) on Sunday to talk about its  redevelopment. The workshops are part of a “community outreach” process that the City asked the mall’s owner and operator, Macerich, to undertake as part of its effort to forge a development agreement. Unveiled last November, Macerich’s original proposal to redevelop the mall met with a lot of criticism from the community.  Conceived by architect Jon Jerde for Macerich, it would have replaced the 10-acre, three-story mall with three 21-story condo towers, an eight story rental apartment building, 560,000 square feet of new rental space, a seven-story, 85,000-square-foot office complex, 40 acres of underground parking (to be constructed by the City) and two rooftop parks (one public, one private).  The three towers would contain 300 condominiums and the apartment building would contain 150 rental units.  The current mall contains two parking structures with 1,985 parking spaces that are owned by the City, and has a total retail area of 560,250 square feet. At the Sunday workshop, Macerich senior vice-president Randy Brandt explained that the initial proposal was prompted by the fact that after the company purchased the mall five years ago, it realized it needed to take steps to   improve its profitability. The mall “turned its back on the downtown, ” Brandt said, so they “looked at taking the roof off and moving the food court to the 3rd level.  When we looked at the alternatives which were all very expensive we still had a problem with the internal nature of the project and the parking decks on the outside that don’t work very well.  We then started thinking outside the box…and decided to tear the entire project down…[as] this is an antiquated physical situation.” The workshop began with a tour of eight selected sites at SMP. Some participants went on a guided walking tour, while others watched a presentation by facilitators, Daniel Iacofano, Moore Iacofano and Goltsman Inc., (MIG) that was designed to provide some context for the workshop brainstorming.  The eight sites were the Fourth Street entrance to SMP, the corner of Colorado and Fourth Street, the Colorado entrance to SMP, the Main Street Bridge and Colorado Avenue, the Second Street entrance, the Robinson’s May corner (Second and Broadway), Third Street Promenade and Broadway and Broadway and Fourth Street. Participants then discussed a number of ideas, which  included involving the mall’s original architect Frank Gehry with its revitilization, “opening up the food court to the Third Street Promenade and including walking streets from that area,” and connecting the mall to the Civic Center and the Pier.  Others suggestions were that the “project should be disability friendly,” include affordable housing, have underground parking, a connection to light rail, and taller buildings in order to have more open space.  Many of the residents were concerned that that the redevelopment would trigger an intensification of use, leading to increased parking and traffic problems in an already congested downtown with limited infrastructure.  Several people noted that only two freeway ramps  serve downtown Santa Monica.  Another resident suggested that housing should be included to “improve the City’s jobs-housing balance.” A tour guide suggested that parking be included for tour buses. Many workshop participants were concerned that the retail stores in the new SMP “would target only the rich, ” and  suggested that the stores be a mix that would serve people at all economic levels. Some people disagreed with Macerich’s contention that the mall no longer worked, saying that they liked the mall, but didn’t like the stores in the mall. It was also suggested that the two anchor stores that as the two current mall anchors, Robinson-May and Macy’s, are now owned by the same company that they merge, and that the other anchor location should be leased to Target.  Others suggested that the new mall should “retain its creative aspects” by replacing chain stores with more original and unusual ventures, that it should have an affordable food court, sustainability features such as solar energy and landscape water conservation, paseos and cultural amenities. “Planning in isolation” and building “Miami-like” towers were also criticized. The final workshop speaker was a psychologist who has lived in Santa Monica for 70 years.  He saw this “issue as being a struggle between the natural commercial development impetus of the City that has a lot of desirable qualities and characteristics on the one hand and a desire to keep a small town feel.”  He suggested keeping “the facility in its original configuration but using it more humanly and effectively” by retaining the food courts and adding small shops, “not small shops that fill every mall in main street America…where individual entrepreneurs can bring their wares.” The workshop then broke into four groups to collaborate, with the help of facilitators, on creating a design concept for SMP using maps, blocks and other materials to represent land uses, structural mass and parking concepts.  A representative from each group then presented his  group’s design concept to the other workshop participants. Common themes that emerged during the presentations were the inclusion of underground parking, paseos, housing, connections to Pier and the Civic Center and mass transit, a central plaza, a range of affordable food and housing, office space, pedestrian walkways around the mall, roof-top gardens and a cultural center.  The maximum  height for housing was 8 to 12 stories. Assistant City Manager Gordon Anderson explained that the next step would be the financial analysis of the general design themes from this workshop and three  others that are being held this week. The analysis will be presented to the community during future workshops, and the City’s Planning Commission for its review. Ultimately, the accumulated data will go to the City Council, which will decide whether the City will  make a Development Agreement with Macerich and specify what parameters the project should include.

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