Logo horizontal ruler

Mall Redevelopment Raises High Expectations

By Jorge Casuso

November 17 -- If an astounding plan to redevelop Santa Monica Place is to get off the ground, the owners of the struggling 24-year-old indoor mall will need to convince a largely skeptical City Council concerned with the project's towering height.

Council members who have viewed the plan -- which calls for three 21-story glass condo towers, an apartment building, an office complex and a public park, all perched above shops and restaurants -- initially reacted with shock and awe.

"When I first saw the picture, I gasped," said Bobby Shriver, the only new council member elected November 2. "I was stunned. I thought, 'Wow.' That will change Santa Monica if these large building go up... I'm against it."

"I think it's a grand plan in terms of its scope and vision," said Mayor Richard Bloom, "but I think it's going to require a lot of thought and careful consideration."

"You've got to be kidding," Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown wrote in an letter emailed after The Lookout broke the story Monday. "DOA." (Dead on arrival.) (see original story)

Macerich company's plan -- which will be unveiled at Thursday's Bayside District Board meeting and showcased at a community meeting Monday -- fulfills a wish list from City officials to break up the monolithic mall that covers two blocks of Downtown and link the thriving Third Street Promenade to the Civic Center and pier.

But the council must weigh the project's considerable benefits -- including much needed affordable housing, a breathtaking park and state-of-art subterranean parking -- against its drawbacks, primarily potential traffic congestion and the three towers that would forever change Santa Monica's skyline.

"The question is and the question will be, 'Are the benefits worth the negatives with the towers?" said Councilman Ken Genser. "I think our skyline is interesting enough, and I still consider this a beach town, and it doesn't conform with what my sense of Santa Monica is.

"Everything below the towers is fine, but I'm very concerned about the height," Genser said. "It's a significant concern of mine."

"It's going to be very, very difficult to sell in Santa Monica," said Councilman Bob Holbrook. "My feeling is the public will react negatively because they don't want anything that tall.

"It would be a radical departure from where we are now," Holbrook said. "This is Santa Monica, and people react negatively to height. It's going to be tough politically... I think the public could be so fearful, it could be a political nightmare."

The more the towers exceed the area's 56-foot zoning height limitation (under the proposed plan they stand 300 feet above the sidewalk), the greater the opposition will be, Holbrook said.

"There are people who will fight anything over two or three floors, and the higher they go, the more people will enter the fight," Holbrook said.

Not all council members, however, are so focused on the height, or view it as a major drawback of Macerich's proposal.

"I'm more concerned about the traffic," said Mayor Bloom. "I wouldn't say I'm unconcerned about the height, because this is a very significant departure from what community expectations are."

But, Bloom added, "I'm not automatically opposed to height. I'm not going to take automatic opposition because of its height. Deviation, in and of itself, is not something that offends me at all."

Bloom noted that the development agreement required to exceed the zoning code will only govern the site of Santa Monica Place, which is bounded by 2nd and 4th streets and Colorado Avenue and Broadway.

"We're not changing the height restrictions we have in the city," Bloom said. "This is a development agreement. That puts the City in control."

Shriver, however, fears that granting a development agreement for such a potentially lucrative project could open the gates for other developers to follow suit, dotting the Downtown skyline with similar high-rises.

"Ten condos at $20 million each, that would get the attention of every developer in the country," Shriver said. "It's a broader point because these three can't be the only three. If we had more of these, we'd be living in a different place."

All the council members interviewed expect that if the project is to be approved, Macerich will need to significantly lower the height of the towers.

"It's going to be a community process to determine how high is acceptable," said Councilman Michael Feinstein, who failed in his bid for reelection and will not be on the council when it determines the fate of the project.

"The question of how much higher is open to negotiation," Feinstein said, "and what people have to realize is that in Santa Monica everything gets pruned back.

"A development agreement is a negotiation process," he said. "I'm sure Macerich understands that... I think we are a long way from what a final package will be."

Holbrook agrees. "I'd like to see a compromise," Holbrook said. "I hope we can find some kind of compromise that could work for all of us."

How high Macerich can build will be determined in large part by how great the benefits of the project are, and nearly every council member interviewed, including opponents, believes they are considerable.

"We share genuine interest in a creative solution to extend the promenade and help Macerich recover the vibrancy of Santa Monica Place," McKeown said, "but this is not that solution."

"I think this is a very unique situation," Genser said. "The residential units don't generate a lot of traffic. I think adding units to the Downtown is good."

"Rather than dismissing the dialogue, (the council and community) should welcome the opportunity to connect the Promenade, pier, Civic Center and future rail station," said Feinstein, referring to plans to bring a light rail terminal to the edge of the site.

"This is a project that brings potentially a lot of good things to the community," Bloom said. "It connects the Third Street Promenade to the Civic Center, and it deals with the super-block problem that exists now.

"The community needs to have an idea of the upside and downside," the mayor said. "I hope the community views the project with an open mind."

The Santa Monica Place redevelopment plan will be unveiled at the Bayside District board meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. in the community room on the third floor of Santa Monica Place.

The plan will be the topic of a community meeting held by Mercerich next Monday at 6 p.m. at the former Eddie Bauer store near Macy's department store on the first floor of Santa Monica Place.

Lookout Logo footer image
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.
Footer Email icon