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Planning Commission Approves Bowling Alley

By Gene Williams, Staff Writer

November 18 -- It took a few months to iron out the wrinkles, but after Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting, it looks like bowling will be coming to the Third Street Promenade.

The proposed 12-lane bowling alley upstairs in the old Woolworths building had received the endorsement of City and Bayside District officials from the get-go, according to the project’s architect David Hibbert.

The sticky point has been alcohol regulations. Although liquor licenses are issued by the State, the City imposes its own conditions before approving businesses that serve spirits. (see story)

After some back-and-forth with City Hall and returning to the drawing board for design tweaks, Hibbert had most of the bugs worked out by Wednesday night.

But the architect still had a few issues with the City, and, in the end, he got most of the concessions he wanted.

Consistent with provisions for Santa Monica restaurants that have a full bar, City staff wanted alcohol sales to be limited to 35% of the bowling alley’s total sales.

Also, drinks could only be served to those ordering food. An exception would be made to folks “actively engaged in bowling” – language in the staff report which provoked some jokes from members on the dais.

The conditions, staff said, were aimed at assuring that bowling, not drinking, would be the primary activity at the facility, which will be open to all ages.

Speaking for the architect and his clients, attorney Chris Harding argued that the two restrictions were unreasonable.

Bowling is a relatively cheap pursuit whereas drinking designer martinis is not, Harding said. And so, he said, although there is no way to predict what percentage of revenue would come from drinks, that number would not accurately reflect the ratio of drinking to bowling.

Harding also took issue with the condition that tied getting a drink with ordering food or “actively” bowling.

The language seemed to imply that someone couldn’t get a drink before or after a game without ordering a meal, Harding said. In any case, the business would be adequately governed by other provisions to discourage excessive drinking, he said.

Harding said that he and his client had no problem with other restrictions, including conditions which prohibit a dance floor or renting the space out to event promoters.

The commissioners, several of whom said the alley will be a great addition to the downtown, agreed with Harding.

In a motion which passed unanimously, they approved the alley’s Conditional Use Permit (CUP), striking out language which tied drinking with bowling or ordering food.

In addition – following a precedent set by a CUP granted Chinois restaurant which serves high-priced spirits – the commission raised the percentage of alcohol sales the alley will be allowed from 35 to 45 percent.

Afterward, Harding said the hearing went well.

The 14,500-square-foot bowling alley is slated to be built on the second floor of an historic retail building, upstairs from Johnny Rockets, Hard Tail and Armani Exchange, at 1322 Third Street Promenade. When finished, it will include 12 lanes, two dining areas, a bar and a full-service kitchen.

The only bowling alley currently in Santa Monica is Bay Shore Lanes which opened some 40 or 50 years ago and is not subject to a City CUP.

Hibbert hopes to have the new lanes open by summer 2006.

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