The arrival of the Expo Line is expected to transform the City of Santa Monica in multiple ways. Some of that anticipated transformation is planned for the City’s eastside, where Expo riders will either be saying hello or goodbye to Santa Monica as they pass by Bergamot Station.
Among the many planned projects at or near Bergamot Station include the proposed Bergamot Art Center. At its special meeting on March 20, council members pushed forward a concept plan and policy direction for the Art Center on the city-owned portion of Bergamot Station.
“Today, Bergamot Station is an integral feature of Santa Monica’s cultural landscape and known both nationally and internationally, providing access to a diversity of artistic mediums and experiences for the community and the region, as well as serving as an anchor to the broader creative business sector that has grown within the Bergamot area,” a staff report to council members stated. “The new Expo Line Station, which will begin construction this year, will bring significant changes to Bergamot Station.”
With the council action on March 20, staff was also directed to prepare a Request for Qualification (RFQ) “to secure a master lessee/development team to implement the City’s vision for the site.”
Council members were presented with community input gathered over the past several months, where staff met with stakeholders either individually through a series of workshops and focus groups.
Bergamot gallery owners were actively included in the meetings, workshops, and focus groups, staff reported.
“A preferred concept was created that seeks to preserve many existing buildings and art galleries, provide complementary new cultural uses to foster Bergamot’s enduring vitality, and support community access to the new Expo station, while balancing revenue needs of the Big Blue Bus,” a staff report stated.
Specifically, stakeholders expressed their preference to: preserve mast existing Bergamot buildings; upgrade open space; provide additional restrooms; renovate existing buildings; construct a parking structure to ease onsite parking constraints; develop a “mid-priced boutique hotel” with a restaurant and/or bar; establish a museum with a signature structure that would possibly house Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMoA); add a performance space and café at the SMMoA; include a “protected area for art galleries” and keeping a safe distance between them and the light rail train platform; and, allow for creative office spaces “with arts-related ground-floor uses.”
Arts Commission Chair Mike Myers said Bergamot Station and the proposed Art Center provides an “excellent opportunity” to maintain Santa Monica’s rich arts culture and history. Myers also requested council members consider at least one member of the Arts Commission be included in the review of potential developers.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis said this is “an exciting time” and that she was looking forward to the ideas that would come to council and other advisory boards in response to the RFQ.
“(There is an) opportunity to really elevate the Santa Monica Museum of Art into a centerpiece or showpiece for Bergamot,” Davis said. “It’s obviously a very important institution within the city and it really hasn’t had the physical presence to reflect that.”
She also pointed out one of the possible qualifications in the RFQ should be that the future developer has experience working in Santa Monica and understands the city’s institution and personality.
Both staff and City Manager Rod Gould stated “any sophisticated development team” would inherently have to present plans that are based on local knowledge whether or not it was included on the list of qualifications.
However, Council member Bobby Shriver countered that, even if a “sophisticated” development team will ultimately cater to Santa Monica’s “quirks,” adding to the list of qualifications that a potential developer have working knowledge of the city’s personality may limit the number of developers who submit proposed plans to City Hall.
“What I want to assure … is this be an open competition,” Shriver said. “It’s an understood thing in business than when you go to do a local development, you get local people to help you.”
The final vote was 4-to-1, with Shriver casting the sole nay. Council members Bob Holbrook and Terry O’Day, while present for earlier maters, were both absent during the vote on this matter.
According to staff, “the property was originally purchased with transit funds in 1989 with the goal of serving future transit needs and as a source of revenue for the Big Blue Bus.”
Ever since City Hall purchased Bergamot Station, it “has evolved into a widely known arts resource, recognized for its contribution to the arts and culture within both the City’s adopted Creative Capital plan, and the General Plan Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).”
The demolition of the Track 16 building, where much of the Expo-related work will take place, is scheduled in a few months.
Bergamot Station is located near Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street.