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Promenade Bowling Alley Is Approved: planning board okays second floor lanes

Santa Monica’s Planning Commission unanimously approved the required documents for a 12-lane bowling alley to be constructed on the second floor of the old Woolworths building at 1322 Third Street Promenade.

The ground floor of the 1949 building, which is listed on the City’s historic resources inventory, currently houses Johnny Rockets, Hard Tail and the Armani Exchange. The 14,500 square-foot second floor will house a 7,600 square-foot bowling alley, two dining areas, a lounge, bar, kitchen, control center, liquor storage room, office and restrooms.

Most of the Commission’s discussion focused on whether he conditions proposed for the requisite Conditional Use Permit (CUP) would ensure that its primary use would be bowling rather than drinking.

City staff recommended that only 35 percent of the new bowling alley’s gross sales be from alcohol “to ensure that the proposed use remains a hybrid between a restaurant and a bowling alley.” That is the same percentage staff generally recommends for restaurants with full bars.

City staff also suggested that “alcohol shall not be served to persons except those intending to purchase meals, however, any person actively involved in bowling shall not be required to purchase food in order to obtain alcoholic beverages.”

Land Use attorney Chris Harding, representing the property owner Five and Ten Investments, objected to the recommendations, pointing out that “in this operation the revenue won’t measure the relative amount of activity. You can bowl for an hour and not pay very much money, but that’s going to be most of the floor area and most of the activity and the revenue may be more on the food and beverage side, especially the beverage side. Therefore, putting a 35 percent cap on alcohol sales won’t really reflect the primary activity accurately.”

Harding then pointed out Chinois restaurant’s CUP set the cap on alcohol sales at 45 percent because its alcoholic beverages cost more than those at most restaurants. “We will probably have a higher alcohol percentage than your conventional restaurant because we are going to be open till 2 a.m.,” said Harding. “My guess is as an evening wears on, there will be a shift between the percentage of food and alcohol because people will drink a little more and eat a little less.”

The Commission agreed with Harding’s assessment and approved an alcohol cap of 45 percent.

Harding also objected to City staff’s suggestion that “requires you to order a meal when drinking unless you are actively engaged in bowling.” Owing to the separate lounge and bar area “people may just want to come there and have a drink and not have a meal. To require that people be actively engaged in bowling…means you can’t drink before you bowl and you can’t drink after you bowl which, from a safety standpoint, appears rather stupid.”

Such conditions, he concluded, would make the operation of this business financially unviable.

Once again, the Commission agreed and removed these conditions.Prior to the vote, the Commission heard from the Bayside District Corporation’s Executive Director Kathleen Rawson, who told the Commission that Bayside was “so excited about this opportunity … that doesn’t come along that often to enliven a second floor that is currently vacant and such a fun use.” It was also desirable, she said, “because it’s an entertainment as well as a family use.” She closed by saying that her Board did not support “a cap on alcohol sales” as this was a unique use.

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