Plans to redevelop the Bergamot Station arts complex remain track once following approval of a plan at the June 13 Council Meeting.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to approve a preliminary plan that preserves several existing buildings, protects current tenants and extends an exclusive negotiating agreement with the developer, the Worthe Real Estate Group. A controversial hotel remains part of the project.

The Council’s vote locked in long-term protections for existing art galleries and arts-related tenants by tying rent increases to the Consumer Price Index for the next three years.

“If the arts are going to survive in this world we have to build a love of the arts in everyone,” Mayor Pro-Tempore Gleam Davis said in support of the 207,900 square foot project which includes a hotel, a community center and a museum as well as some office space. “It can’t just be a privileged few.”

The current plan for Bergamot Station removes on-site parking to make room for flexible open space. A parking garage would be built in nearby City Yards where employees could park during the day, and visitors to Bergamot at night and on weekends.

With the Expo Line promising to bring light rail to the location, City staff began plans to redevelop the five-acre site at 2525 Michigan Avenue five years ago. Since 1994, the gallery complex has essentially worked as a partnership between the City and landlord Wayne Blank who also owned a portion of the site. About 27 tenants have benefitted from cheap rent in large, industrial galleries that provided enough space for art installations.

“For twenty-something years, we’ve been subsidizing this for the art community and now we have the opportunity to really open it up,” said Councilmember Tony Vasquez who was on the Council when Bergamot began in the 90s.

The future has been in flux for Bergamot over the past half-decade as gallery owners worried they would be unable to survive redevelopment. Many expressed fears that if construction didn’t kill their businesses, escalating rents would. At one point, City plans for the site included a hotel, office space, apartments and restaurants. The plan approved by the Council on Tuesday has been drastically cut back, preserving four out of five existing buildings.

“The plan approved by the Arts Commission, the Bergamot Committee, and now
the Council, represents a major shift from the original proposal years ago to disrupt the galleries to excavate underground parking,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said in an email to the Daily Press. “Instead, galleries will be retained and guaranteed subsidized rent, while Santa Monica gets a new arts museum and other community benefits making Bergamot
a truly public space.”

The new plans come too late to save some tenants on the privately-owned portion of Bergamot. Late last year, Blank sold his two acres to a real estate company, which passed on higher property taxes to tenants, many of whom have been forced to move out. Current plans recommend giving those galleries space in the new development.

“Bergamot came together organically and the galleries have put in a tremendous amount of sweat equity and all of us on the Arts Commission in a unanimous way said – you know what – we want to make sure that those galleries … get to be at Bergamot for the rest of their time as galleries,” said Arts Commission Chair Michael Myers who endorsed the plan.

Myers, along with four other commissioners on an ad-hoc committee, suggests experts and community stake holders should form a non-profit that would advise Jeff Worthe on the development of the site and potentially raise money to subsidize rents for non-profits and arts related businesses. The non-profit would curate public events and give advise on the mix of tenants when space becomes available.  At Tuesday’s meeting, Worth called the plan “brilliant.”

“We were looking for that guidance and advice and I think that solution is a great one,” Worthe said.

According to City staff, Worthe is the force pushing to retain a hotel in plans for the site, despite opposition from the Bergamot Advisory Committee, a group comprised of Bergamot tenants and concerned citizens who have been working on the plans for the last two years.

“While a majority of the committee was unable to support the hotel use, the Worthe Group felt the hotel was an important economic and synergistic use of the site and should be included in the preliminary plan,” Santa Monica Economic Development Manager Jason Harris said.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich was the lone member to vote against the motion Tuesday because she does not support the stipulation to build a 120-room hotel.

“The idea of putting an luxury hotel in an area where you have accessible and affordable art and galleries and where you have an arts center doesn’t make sense to me,” Himmelrich said.

Without a hotel, staff estimates Bergamot Station will bring in about $1.3 million a year to the City. Because of Transit Occupancy Tax, a 120-room hotel more than doubles that amount to $2.9 million. The City purchased the property back in 1989 with transit funds with the goal of providing a source of revenue for Big Blue Bus.

Council’s feedback, including a motion to scale back or remove the office space from the plan, will be incorporated into a proposal that still has to go through the formal development process with several years of hearings necessary before the project receives final approval.

kate@smdp.com

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