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Council Approves Miramar Hotel Redevelopment
By Jorge Casuso
September 30, 2020 -- The Miramar Hotel's redevelopment plan won City Council approval Tuesday, less than three weeks after the Planning Commission recommended the ambitious project be swiftly approved.
The 4 to 2 vote was narrower than anticipated after Councilmember Gleam Davis, who was expected to support the project, recused herself over a potential conflict of interest concern raised last week ("Councilmember Seeks Opinion on Potential Conflict in Miramar Vote," September 22, 2020).
More than 100 residents, most of them testifying in favor of the project, weighed in during the more than seven-hour, on-line meeting that came a decade after the project was first proposed with a radically different design.
The vote to approve the 502,157-square-foot oceanfront project capped an often bitter battle between supporters, who see it as an economic boon and forward-looking tribute to the city's past, and opponents, who fear it will overwhelm the neighborhood near the northwestern edge of an already congested Downtown.
The battle culminated with a last-minute blitz mounted by an opposing group over the weekend that was widely denounced as an anti-Semitic attack on the hotel's owner, tech billionaire Michael Dell ("Cartoon Ad Opposing Miramar Project Sets Off Firestorm," September 28, 2020).
The planned 312-room hotel redevelopment doubles the size of the 300 existing rooms, restores the 100-room seven-story historic Palisades building and adds 60 luxury condominiums on the top floor and a 42-unit affordable apartment building across Second Street ("Planning Commission Urges Council to Fast-Track Miramar Redevelopment," September 14, 2020).
The curved 130-foot-tall structure on the 4.5-acre site facing Palisades Park showcases the Miramar's iconic Moreton fig tree planted by the wife of Santa Monica's co-founder, U.S. Senator John Percival Jones, in what was the family's yard 150 years ago.
The project, Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said, "will reinvigorate a beloved historic property at the northern edge of Downtown Santa Monica as we rebuild our local economy."
It also will create "new affordable housing, public open space, and resources to address homelessness, provide child care, and support seniors in our community,” Dilg said.
"The inclusion of the luxury condos forced ingress, egress, and circulation choices that created unfair and unnecessary impacts on the edge of a residential neighborhood," McKeown said after the vote.
"At best, the immediate sale of the condos will pay for the construction of the renovated hotel, so that a well-capitalized developer avoids having to invest in our community over time and gets a shiny five-star hotel for free," McKeown said..
But the concerns the project caters to the rich were outweighed by the sudden and sizable boost it is expected to bring to a local economy battered by the coronavirus shutdown.
The redevelopment is projected to generate approximately 3,060 union jobs and $418 million in economic output during construction, which is expected to begin as early as 2023 and completed by 2026, City officials said.
Once in operation, the new development is projected to pump an additional $8.1 million into the City's General Fund, which City officials forecast will lose $150 million due to the ongoing health emergency.
The new development also is projected to create 214 new jobs and an additional $41.8 million in annual economic output.
In addition, City officials tout the "community benefits," which include 14,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space, $1.4 million for transportation infrastructure improvements and $1 million for early childhood initiatives.
Among the other benefits are contributions of $720,000 for affordable housing, $500,000 for "equity and economic opportunity initiatives," $350,000 to support services and programs for seniors and $200,000 in funding for ambassadors at nearby Reed Park.
But opponents contend the community benefits are dwarfed by the profits the developer stands to make.
McKeown, a champion of affordable housing, called the 42 low-income units Community Corporation will build behind the hotel "a red herring."
"The alleged connection to the very welcome affordable housing was a red herring," the mayor said. "Our laws require a percentage of affordable when housing is built.
"But in a Development Agreement we can demand affordable housing as a community benefit without having to tie it to any other housing production, especially top-dollar oversized condos,” McKeown said.
The proposed project still requires hearings before the City's Landmarks Commission and Architectural Review Board (ARB), as well as the California Coastal Commission.
It also requires the developer to finish construction drawings and pull the needed permits, which can take two years.
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