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Good Timing for New Plan

By Ed Moosbrugger

March 14 -- Every 20 years or so, it seems, Downtown Santa Monica stakeholders step up in a big way to help the area revive or thrive.

In the 1960s, Santa Monica established the three-block outdoor Santa Monica Mall and six public parking structures on Second and Fourth streets, while also putting into motion a search for a department store that eventually led to the redevelopment project that created Santa Monica Place.

In the 1980s, Santa Monica Place opened, and the City created the Bayside District Corp. to help spearhead a revival of Downtown Santa Monica, including a redo of the Santa Monica Mall into what is today the Third Street Promenade.

Now, the City and Downtown interests will be evaluating a Downtown Management Framework (see cover story) designed to help keep the area thriving. This follows adoption by the City Council last year of a Downtown parking plan that could create as many as 1,712 new parking spaces during a ten-year period.

What’s common to all three periods is that the City and Downtown interests took a serious look at where the area stood and developed a plan of action. Today’s situation differs markedly, however, from the 1960s and 1980s. Then, Downtown was operating more from a position of weakness than of strength.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s business wasn’t what many people thought it should be.
Consultants recommended a pedestrian mall on Third Street, improved parking and a new major department store.

Creating the three-block pedestrian mall between Wilshire Boulevard and Broadway and building the parking structures helped set off a business revival that lasted for several years.
It took a lot of hard work, many meetings and substantial public and private financial commitments to get things moving.

Unfortunately, the revival ran out of steam, but the efforts left some important things in place, including the parking structures and the concept of a pedestrian-friendly Downtown core.

Indeed, the foresight to build the parking structures is one of the key reasons why Downtown has been so successful in recent years, said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District Corp.

Momentum from those early efforts was lost partly because there was no entity ensuring continuous improvement.

By the 1980s, the outdoor mall was suffering for a variety of reasons, including poor maintenance, lack of direction and increased competition from outside Santa Monica and, ironically, the opening of Santa Monica Place. The new indoor regional shopping center stole some of the thunder from the rest of Downtown and wasn’t integrated as well with the outdoor mall as City leaders had hoped.

The City created the nonprofit Third Street Development Corp. (now the Bayside District Corp.) to spearhead the rejuvenation efforts. It included merchants, property owners and residents.

The nonprofit corporation helped shield the revitalization efforts from city politics, which was critical for business people, and provided a vehicle for continuous oversight.

The effort wasn’t easy. There was a lot of skepticism. Many workshops were held along the way.

In a key move, the City limited new movie theater development to the Downtown core. New movie theaters became key anchors that helped make the revival a reality.

These and other actions, including major investments by some visionary property owners and businesses, eventually led to the situation today in which the Third Street Promenade and Downtown Santa Monica are doing well.

There are many reasons why Downtown is thriving instead of facing the need, as it did in the 1960s and 1980s, to revive the area.

One was the creation of the Bayside District Corp. to manage Downtown and assure that someone would be taking a look at what needed to be done on an ongoing basis to keep the area healthy.

If anything was learned between the opening of the Santa Monica Mall in 1965 and the dedication of the redone Third Street Promenade in 1989 it was that there is no place for complacency.

That’s why the City of Santa Monica and Bayside District are now putting forward the Downtown Management Framework.

With Santa Monica Place preparing for a major redo of its space, the timing is good because the proposed changes in the shopping center hold promise of connecting better with the rest of Downtown.

It’s important that there be cooperation and coordination of these various efforts so that mistakes of the past aren’t repeated and solutions are found for new challenges and conditions.

SANTA MONICA HOTELS scored a strong 81.5 percent occupancy rate for 2006, up 3.7 percent from 2005, according to PKF Consulting. The average room rate increased 8.3 percent to $253.57 at hotels tracked by PKF.

The results are in line with estimates made by PKF in October.

During December, Santa Monica’s hotel occupancy edged up 0.2 percent from a year earlier to 62.3 percent, while the average room rate rose 7.1 percent.







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