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Public Gets Initial Glimpse of Mall Redevelopment

By Jorge Casuso

November 19 -- A subterranean high-tech parking structure that guides motorists to open spaces. A block-long park open to most, though not all, of the public. And a new street made to look old.

Those are some of the features of an ambitious plan to redevelop Santa Monica Place that came into sharper focus during its public unveiling at Thursday night’s Bayside Board meeting, where officials of the struggling indoor mall fielded questions from a seemingly open-minded crowd.

An audience of some three dozen residents, developers, public officials and the press questioned mall officials about the specifics of the plan to tear down the existing 24-year-old mall and replace it with two stories of stores that serve as a podium for three 21-story glass condo towers, an apartment building, an office complex and a park.

The existing mall, “was a catalyst for the Third Street Promenade, but today it is in the shadows of the Promenade,” said Randy Brant, Senior Vice President for Development and Leasing for the Macerich Company, which owns Santa Monica Place.

Model of Santa Monica Place Redevelopment by Jerde Architecture and Urban Design.

The redevelopment project -- which would take two and a half years to construct -- would make the site a “town center,” extending the Promenade an extra block with “retro-style” brick and stucco buildings that would link the thriving shopping strip to the Civic Center and pier.

“We want to make it look like an urban street and not a shopping center,” Brant said. “We don’t want it to look like a mall, we want (the buildings) to look like they’ve been there a long time.”

The plan -- which will be presented to the City Council next month, initiating what will likely be a lengthy public process -- would also replace the mall’s blank walls and towering parking structures along the perimeter with shops and second-floor apartments facing the street.

As expected, one of the key questions centered on the height of proposed trio of condo towers that will rise 300-feet from the sidewalk, equaling the city’s tallest structure, the white GTE building on Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.

The tall glass towers are the best way to accommodate the proposed 300 condo units, since they allow more light and a greater amount of open space.

“The height issue is a multifaceted issue,” Brant said. “Tall towers are what look best. When you take them down lower, they become wider and more massive and cut off views.”

Macerich -- which has only one mixed-use project among the 61 shopping venues the company owns nationwide -- is open to letting others develop the residential phase of the project, Brant said.

“We could go into a joint venture, or sell the rights to the residential development,” Brant said. “There is high demand in Santa Monica for residential. There are plenty of qualified residential developers that would love to do it.”

Another concern expressed at the meeting was the potential traffic congestion triggered by the addition of 450 new residential units -- which also include 150 rental units, an unspecified number of them affordable -- and an 85,000-square-foot office building that will likely house some 300 workers.

“The increases will be people living in the condos and apartments and the office building,” said Brant, adding that how much extra traffic the reconfigured shopping venue would draw would depend on its success.

View from Second Street and Colorado Avenue

Brant touted the “30 to 40 acres” of underground parking, each of the two levels holding 1,000 cars, and noted that the City is considering adding an extra level. The City, Brant said, would pay to replace the existing parking, which it owns.

The parking rates, Brant said, would stay the same as they are now with the first two hours free before 6 p.m. and a flat fee afterwards.

Another key question centered on the 2.1 acre park perched above the stores between Second and Third Street. Unlike the 2.1 acres of open space on the residential side between Third and Fourth Streets -- which will be accessible only to the residents and their guests -- the park will be accessible to the public from ground level by elevators, escalators and stairs.

But because it would be on private land, Macerich would be able to control who can visit or which street entertainers can perform at the park, which includes trees and “water features” and is lined with restaurants and food courts overlooking the ocean.

“We would like them to be private property open to the public under rules and conditions,” Brant said, comparing the park to the open areas at the Grove, the private outdoor mall next to the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax.

Macerich officials are already moving to sell the plan. They have been talking to potential lessees, including Crate and Barrel, which may be interested in taking over one of two 40,000-square-foot “mini anchor stores” that would occupy two levels at the corners of Second and Broadway and Fourth and Broadway.

Santa Monica Place’s two existing anchor department stores -- Macy’s and Robinsons-May, which negotiated “favorable deals” to move into the mall when it opened in 1980 -- would remain, occupying the southern half of the site.

“Both have verbally agreed to shut down and open new stores under the new configuration,” Brant said, adding that the current spaces occupied by the two department stores “don’t belong in a sophisticated area like Santa Monica.”

Janet Morris, whose family owns several properties on the Promenade, worried that the proposed project would further a cycle that saw Santa Monica Place siphon business from Third Street before the advent of the Promenade reversed the cycle, leading to the current proposal.

“I think this is a lovely project, (but) I’m afraid this is going to be a repeating cycle,” Morris said. “Santa Monica Place will be the new kid on the block and the Third Street Promenade will go down the tubes.”

To safeguard against such a scenario, Santa Monica Place, should be integrated into the Bayside District, Morris said.

Bayside officials restricted their comments to questions, and although one speaker worried the project could turn Santa Monica into Miami Beach., most of the initial public testimony was either neutral or positive.

“I wouldn’t mind big, high buildings if there was much more affordable housing,” said activist Jerry Rubin. “I think it will be a good asset to the community.”

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