BERGAMOT STATION — The man credited with turning Bergamot Station from empty warehouses to a bustling world-renowned art center is backing out of the developer selection process.
Three development teams are vying for City Council’s blessing to add a six-story hotel and 40,000 square feet of creative office space to the 8-acre Bergamot Station Art Center. City Hall owns more than half of the land on which the center is located.
Wayne Blank had initially joined forces with one of the three developers, Bergamot Station Ltd/Worth Real Estate, as its art curator.
Last week, however, he announced in a release that he would withdraw from the selection process.
“I have become convinced that the City of Santa Monica’s current approach to redevelopment of the site is fatally flawed and that if the city remains on its current path, it will likely result in the death of Bergamot Station as a world-renowned arts center,” he said. “I would urge the City Council to reject all three of the current development proposals and postpone major redevelopment of the complex at this time.”
Council considered the developers earlier this year but decided to postpone a selection until artists and residents weighed in. Earlier this month residents got rowdy at a community meeting about the project, questioning the need for a hotel and claiming that the proposed parking is insufficient.
Blank agrees with the latter point.
City Hall’s requirement that all parking be built on-site, he said, will severely disrupt galleries and tenants. Construction would involve the displacement of some galleries.
“As a gallery owner myself, and as one who has recruited and worked with the art gallery owners for the past 20 years, I do not believe we could survive the transition period,” he said.
Many artists and residents expressed a desire to have a parking structure built on the adjacent City Yards property. City officials have said this could be an option in coming years but say that the land is currently essential to the Public Works Department.
City Hall should postpone the development process, Blank said, until the future of City Yards is worked out.
Secondly, Blank said, the development process has veered from the public’s desire to keep the site’s “unique low-scale industrial feel, and primarily arts-focused uses.”
Bergamot Station is currently a hodgepodge of metal warehouses.
Finally, he encouraged City Hall to allow developers to work with the privately-owned adjacent properties where, he said, 40 percent of the Bergamot Station Art Center galleries are located.
“The adjacent properties can provide critical relief to the phasing and parking issues facing this complex project,” he said. “Including them in any proposal may make the difference between survival or extinction for many of the current art galleries at Bergamot.”
Blank has asked that the center be left alone for now, except for the pedestrian connection that would tie it to the incoming Expo Light Rail Line station.
“Without this ‘re-boot’ of the process,” he closed his statement, “Bergamot Station as a rare and precious arts center and cultural resource will be unnecessarily threatened and potentially destroyed.”
Council will consider selecting a developer later this year. Selection of one of the three developers is far from a stamp of approval. Once selected, the team will have to work its way through City Hall’s development agreement process including stops at the Architectural Review Board, Planning Commission, and finally, council.