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Downtown Making Steady Comeback, Officials Say


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By Jorge Casuso

June 6, 2024 -- You wouldn't know it from the doomsday scenarios painted by critics, but City officials say Santa Monica's Downtown is making a quiet but steady comeback.

Foot traffic -- despite persistent rains -- is gaining ground, vacant storefronts are slowly filling up and construction is taking place at an accelerated rate, officials said.

"There’s a lot happening in Downtown Santa Monica," City Manager David White wrote in a blog post this week, noting that "change takes time and patience."

"Millions of dollars are being invested here," White wrote. "New stores are opening and many others are in progress. We’re seeing fun and entertaining activations popping up.

"Hundreds of new apartments are being built and new residents are choosing to make Santa Monica home."

According to data posted on the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM) website, as of February 27, there were 573 ground-floor commercial spaces Downtown. Of the 532 spaces "being determined for their uses," 81.4 percent were occupied.

Of the ground-level commercial spaces on the Promenade, 78 percent were occupied, including those with tenants on short-term leases.

The 1300 block at the middle of the walk street boasted the highest occupancy rate, 86 percent, followed by the 1200 block at the southern end where 78 percent of the spaces were occupied, according to DTSM's data.

On the 1200 block at the northern end of the Promenade, which has traditionally struggled with vacancies, 69 percent of the spaces were occupied.

The Promenade has also seen a modest, but steady, increase in foot traffic, which bottomed out during the 2020 coronavirus shutdown.

April's visitor count of 319,008 marked a more than 15 percent increase over 2022, and a seventeenfold increase since April 2020.

Still, foot traffic -- meticulously" tracked by -- is slightly more than one-third of the nearly 900,000 counted in 2017.

"Much like numerous downtowns across the United States, the Third Street Promenade has experienced a decline in pedestrian activity over the last four years," Downtown officials said.

That can be attributed to "the practice of remote work prompted by the pandemic and a decrease in tourist visits."

Last year, both the number of visitors and the spending they generated dipped for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown ("Tourism Industry's Recovery Loses Some Ground," May 6, 2024).

Downtown is preparing for more visitors, as well as permanent residents, as it experiences a $1 billion development boom over the rest of the decade that will add a Frank Gehry designed hotel and some 1,300 new apartments, officials said.

As of January 8, there were 39 new development projects in the pipeline. Of those, 24, or nearly two-thirds, have been approved and 8 are under construction.

"When I walk around and see the cranes and the new developments that are happening and those in the pipeline," said DTSM Executive Director Andrew Thomas, "I think we have a lot more good news than bad."

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