DOWNTOWN — At 3 p.m. the sun is still shining on the beaches and the parks, but not on the partially subterranean retail stores at Parking Structure 5.
By next month this will be the new home of the Big Blue Bus customer service center. A small service window inside of the Central Parking Office will be a big shift from the 845-square-foot retail space on Broadway that BBB invested $300,000 making renovations. When it opened, elected officials were on hand to praise the aesthetics and the prime location.
Earlier this month, those same officials approved BBB’s request to sublease the Broadway space to clothing retailer California Love. BBB officials anticipate the move will save $219,000 over the next four years.
The customer service window inside of Central Parking is a temporary fix expected to last only a few months, said Jason Harris, economic development division manager. The space is too small.
If BBB hasn’t found a solution within the next several months they may have to relocate or expand the Central Parking space.
City Hall evaluated several spaces throughout the city but could not find a fit.
Ultimately, City Hall is hoping to consolidate several related public and private customer service uses into one space, he said.
City Hall’s permit parking services, currently located on Fourth Street next to Santa Monica High School, could be added to that list. Those three groups — BBB, Central Parking, and parking permits — serve a combined 90,000 people annually, Harris said.
Assuming citywide bikesharing and car sharing systems come to fruition, their customer service centers could locate with the others.
Metro was not interested in joining the concept at City Hall’s last check, Harris said.
One possibility includes expanding the Central Parking footprint to include one or more of the adjacent spaces.
Currently, a shoe store, dance studio, barber shop and Western Union surround the space.
Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc., the public-private nonprofit that manages and markets Downtown, said she liked the idea of bringing in a customer service depot and suggested it would be an opportunity to improve the aesthetics of the structure.
“There’s not much you can do to this building that won’t improve it,” she said, laughing.
She suggested bringing in a retail architect and letting the Architectural Review Board check out the design.
“I think we should let them have some time with it so we get the benefit of their expertise because that facade picture you showed is really pretty dismal,” she said. “If you just try to put a Band-Aid on it and fix the inside and make it only utilitarian, it’s not going to enhance the street.”
Harris said they would probably bring in an architect to examine the exterior of the building and work on the aesthetic at a relatively low cost.
“The idea that it should look like a retail space is kind of interesting because it’s quasi-office,” he said. “We have office needs and they’ll have break rooms and things.”
Rawson suggested adding a lost and found, which is currently located in the Public Safety Facility on Olympic Boulevard.
Downtown Santa Monica Inc. Vice Chair Barbara Bryan supported improvements to the structure, but asked for City Hall to consider current tenants.
“I think the idea of having a really massive area that could cover this space, and redoing the facade is great,” she said. “I just don’t want the city to be so cavalier to these people, which are like the last four or five renters there. They’re like the last small, small independent guys.”
Dance instructor John Cassese, who owns the Dance Doctor next to Central Parking, is on a month-to-month lease.
He fears losing his spot if City Hall expands the BBB customer service center.
“I’m kind of like a mortar and brick and, to me, a landmark in Santa Monica,” he said. “I’m the pioneer of bringing up Fourth street. The fact that I’m on month-to-month doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have say as to what happens in that building. I am upset.”
Rawson said she plans to check in with current tenants about their future plans and give them a heads-up about the potential changes.
The barber shop, about 275 square feet, and the dance studio, about 3,000 square feet, are on month-to-month leases. The leases on the shoe repair shop and the Western Union expire next June.