Nearly 75 residents and community members filled the East Wing of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on March 16 to provide valuable input on how to best make use of three acres of city-owned land in the shadows of Third Street Promenade.
The special workshop held by the City’s planning commission initiated the community-based discussion in an effort to find the best possible use of 120,000 square-feet of land straddling downtown on Arizona Avenue in between Fourth and Fifth streets.
With a joint presentation by City officials and community leaders about downtown Santa Monica’s past, present, and future development, the workshop culminated in a breakout session of eight focus group discussions. Each moderator-led focus group included a roundtable full of Santa Monica residents and community members, each making valuable contributions on how to make best use of the Arizona Avenue property to improve the downtown experience.
“We have a couple of goals: one is that this site be used to energize the community and downtown … and the City also has a goal that the development of this site will contribute to funding the cost for the future site of parking,” said Eileen Fogarty, the City’s planning director.
As the City-owned site is in the heart of the downtown, the planning commission (and, presumably, the council) hopes the property can be developed to serve as an anchor for the commercially and socially vibrant area.
Accordingly, the goal of the workshop was for City officials, residents, business leaders, and community members to put their collective heads together to explore alternatives and “opportunities to meet the goals and policies to achieve the community “…vision (and) to enliven… the Downtown” area in the context of the City’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) agenda.
“[LUCE] is very clear about maintaining downtown’s economic role, in terms of local shopping, regional entertainment, and… ensuring that you have office use as well as residential,” Fogarty added. “That provides an active environment.”
Kathleen Rawson of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (formerly Bayside District Corporation) spoke of the history of the Third Street Promenade, while Jeff Tumlin of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates discussed parking, traffic flow, and general circulation.
“Downtown Santa Monica can easily be called one of the most successful revitalization projects of public space in the world,” Rawson said. She also made a case for why development in that area should continue and that the public’s input on how that development should take form is essential.
During the breakout session, the focus group participants talked about the reasons they do or do not visit downtown, and activities or venues they hope would eventually find its way to Santa Monica.
For example, many residents said the lack of big-box shopping venues in the city, such as Target or Best Buy, was a draw to head out of Santa Monica. Further, residents and community members hope to see additional cultural events, such as live entertainment, public art, and an outdoor theater, would be established within Santa Monica.
Other recommended uses included an outdoor market similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle, Wash., a permanent ice skating rink, boutique hotels, and cultural venues such as a performing arts center.
Each suggestion and recommendation was given fair consideration during the focus group discussions, and the community will have another opportunity to provide similar input at another workshop on March 24.
The Wednesday evening workshop was put in motion by the Santa Monica City Council at its Dec. 14, 2010, meeting, where it announced a set of “guiding principles” on how best to develop the 120,000 square foot City-owned site in the context of existing conditions while also maintaining downtown Santa Monica’s “identity and character.”