BERGAMOT STATION — Development of the Bergamot Arts Center will move to the City Council with the qualified blessing of the Santa Monica Arts Commission.
The Commission held a special meeting on Aug. 23 to solicit public feedback on three redevelopment proposals for the site and a divided commission eventually chose to support City Staff’s recommendation to open negotiations with one development team. The decision came after two hours of public feedback opposed to the project.
Scott Ginsburg representing the recommended 26th Street TOD Partners acknowledged the role of the public in developing a project for the location and said his team was there to listen as they has been for the last year.
“We look forward to being advocates for the project and for you as partners in the project,” he said.
The 26th Street proposal includes office space, a hotel and underground parking in addition to space for arts galleries and museums. The idea of underground parking has been controversial as opponents of the process say it would force current gallery owners to close.
Mary Marlow said the community, including the gallery owners, were opposed to any of the proposals but said the fault for the poor design lay with a flawed RFP issued by the city.
“This will change it from a cultural center for the arts to a multipurpose mall,” she said.
Laurence Eubank asked that any project be built in phases. He said developers should develop parking solutions that don’t displace galleries, keep the current leases, plan for a smaller scale project and asked for a working group that included the public and gallery owners.
Gallery Owner Lois Lambert said Bergamot businesses had already taken a beating. She said her business has declined by about 50 percent recently, partly due to the recession but mostly due to the impacts of expo construction. She said the current proposals would kill the gallery community and that unless the RFP was completely reissued, Bergamot as it’s currently known would cease to exist.
“We went into this because we believe in art and what we do,” she said. “If you put in underground parking, we have to go.”
Residents were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposals but several speakers praised the opportunity to think about Bergamot and to develop a larger plan for the local arts community. However, some speakers said any changes were unnecessary.
Lia Skidmore questioned the need to make any changes to Bergamot. “We already have the jewel, it’s perfect,” she said.
Wayne Blank, a gallery owner who is credited as founding the current Bergamot community, used his speaking time to acknowledge rumors regarding the sale of his property to a development team. However, when asked by Commission Chair Michael Myers if the property had in fact been sold, Blank said the details weren’t pertinent.
“I brought it up but I’m not about to speak about it,” he said.
At one point, Blank had been part of one development team but he withdrew from the process earlier this year. He said any of the proposals would remove his legacy from the Bergamot project.
“I’m now going to be a gallery owner again,” he said.
Myers said the Commission chose to support staff’s recommendation of an exclusive negotiation with the 26th Street team not necessarily to move the project forward but to provide for a system that allows the developer to begin a community dialogue. Included with their support were several recommendations including the formation of a citizens’ panel to work with the developer and more information regarding the public/private partnership on the site.
“The developer wants (the community) to be part of the project but no developer can continue to solve the problems without negotiating powers,” he said.
Greg Reitz, representing a proposal from ReThink Development acknowledged the process could take the project in a very different direction than currently envisioned.
“It sounds like it could be a very different project than any of us have proposed,” he said.
Visit www.smgov.net/bergamot for more information on the proposals.