As we find ourselves approaching August, the question is what, if any, progress has been made on conceptual design and management improvements for one of our city’s significant assets, the Promenade, since our series of articles on these pages this past February[a] [b].
Previously we noted some essential pre-requisites:
- Integrated, coordinated stakeholder approach on a unified strategy
- Complementary uses and cooperative leasing incentives supporting business growth and sustainability
- Restoration and prioritization of security, safety, and sanitation services
- The Promenade and Downtown are interconnected destinations within the city, and the Promenade cannot be revitalized when viewed as an island.
The city has a significant stake in the outcome in large part due to the sales tax revenues at stake. They have a responsibility to our community, and a mission, to encourage Downtown Santa Monica (DTSM) to provide a viable, flexible and effective turnaround plan.
Since the publication of our articles in February, there does not seem to have been any meaningful progress. In fact, what we are seeing are actions that herald the irreversible depreciation of this irreplaceable city asset.
- The absence of a plan that would spur new business leasing and investment has added to the pandemic-induced uncertainty, prolonging and deepening the historic commercial vacancies. Since our last Promenade articles, additional closings have included The Gallery Food Hall, along with all its associated dining places.
- The absence of a turnaround plan and related analysis laying out the necessary preconditions for success has not prevented the city from making a fundamental siloed decision to demolish Parking Structure Three. Since there is no comprehensive plan, the decision is being made without any understanding of the scale of the opportunity cost to any potential recovery such a significant and irreversible infrastructure loss would incur.
- No discernable options have developed to replace the revenues from lost sales taxes or the soon-to-be-demolished parking structure (about $1.4 million per non-pandemic year). In the February 9, 2021 Council study session, city staff noted that the pre-pandemic Promenade contributed 15% of the City’s total annual sales tax revenue.
One likely cause of this inaction is a fundamental divergence of agendas between DTSM and the Promenade property and business owners. This divergence culminated in all the property owners, and around 85% of the business owners, forming a new group, the Santa Monica Bayside Owners Association (SMBOA), to improve the Promenade’s revitalization. This is despite the fact that DTSM has a $10 million annual budget, from special assessments which include the Promenade owners, for just such purposes.
In recognizing the need to keep all critical options open while a turnaround plan is developed, it was the SMBOA that filed a lawsuit to stop the Parking Structure Three demolition.
With these actions taken as a whole, it is very difficult to conclude otherwise that a nascent policy designed to significantly reduce support to, reduce or eliminate key commercial sectors of the city’s economy seems to be gradually taking hold.
Such a fundamental municipal policy shift needs to be clearly defined and openly discussed. The implications for the residents are substantial. A decline of commercial activity and related services will create increasing pressure to generate revenues from residents directly through taxes and fees and/or reduce services.
Time is running out for evaluating and creating viable options for commercial revitalization of the Promenade. No decisions, especially those that deteriorate major commercial infrastructure like parking structures, should be contemplated or implemented until there is broad stakeholder agreement and an agreed plan for execution.
We need to get this right without further delay for everyone concerned.
By Marc L. Verville and Michael Jolly for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner; Ron Goldman, Architect FAIA; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building & Fire-Life Safety Commissioner; Michael Jolly, AIRCRE; Thane Roberts, Architect; Robert H. Taylor, Architect AIA: Sam Tolkin, Architect; Marc L. Verville M.B.A., CPA (inactive)
[a] The Promenade – Leaving the Past to Reimagine its Future
[b] Promenade now – Back to the Future