Almost everyone is in a lather about the latest plans for the Fairmont Miramar hotel.
The iconic hotel opened in 1924 on a 4.5 acre site at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue. Hotel owners Ocean Avenue, LLC./MSD Capital (subsidiaries in computer entrepreneur Michael Dell’s financial empire) propose to comprehensively redevelop the existing one square-block property by demolishing the entire campus except for the original Palisades Building at Second Street and California Avenue.
Originally, Fairmont Miramar owners filed to double the usable square footage of the existing hotel to over half a million square feet. The remodel would have 265 guest rooms, meeting facilities, retail space, a spa and approximately 120 luxury condominiums. Present parking for 167 cars would be replaced by a 484-space subterranean garage.
The landmark Moreton Bay fig tree would stay and a one acre, public green space at Wilshire and Ocean would be added. And 40 affordable housing units would be built on a hotel-owned parking lot across Second Street.
By the time renovation plans hit the Planning Commission in February of 2012, people were in a tizzy. Opposition mostly came from neighbors and the owners of the Huntley House Hotel across Second Street. They called it “Miramarmageddon” and said the redevelopment would block views and create terrible traffic congestion.
After reviews, the Planning Commission, and the City Council in April 2012, told Fairmont-Miramar’s owners to reduce size and density, mitigate traffic problems, minimize view issues and provide a list of appropriate community benefits
Ten days ago, revised plans were unveiled during an invitation-only meeting with the hotel’s immediate neighbors and in a glossy, color brochure distributed in local newspapers.
The Miramar (as it’s now named) has changed. The two towers have been replaced by a stepped back, mid-property, 21-floor high rise housing the lobby, café, guest rooms and 120 high-end condos. A new, six floor building adjoining a renovated Palisades Building would also contain suites and guest rooms. The new Miramar will now have 280 hotel rooms (down from the current 302 rooms) and provide parking for 484 vehicles in an underground parking garage.
A ballroom, meeting rooms, dining facilities and a pool would be features of a new four-floor building. The Moreton Bay fig, one acre “Miramar Gardens” and public plaza at Wilshire and Ocean have been retained.
It’s unclear how a just announced, totally new 22-floor hotel at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard designed by world renowned architect Frank Gehry will affect the Miramar proposal. (“Frank Gehry-designed hotel proposed for Ocean Avenue,” March 1, page 1)
While I generally liked the original proposal, I think this revision is a big improvement. Here’s why:
• It meets criteria in the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the General Plan which calls for “vibrant and commercially successful Downtown development … on transit corridors.” It promises meaningful community benefits and respect for Santa Monica’s history.
• There’s already a large hotel on site. The new redevelopment doesn’t substantially intensify the use on the property. It’s a “six of this, half dozen of that” situation.
• It will generate millions of dollars annually in tax revenues for the city and provide up to 150 new jobs. Increased revenues will result for local businesses.
• City Hall’s priority is housing. Here are 120 new luxury residences. Forty units of affordable/low income rental housing are in the package, too.
• The new Miramar will be sustainable and much more environmentally friendly than the present antiquated campus. Some 50 percent of the project is open space and the entire redevelopment will be LEED Silver certified.
• Employees will park on-site — not in the neighborhood. There’ll also be adequate visitor and guest parking.
• The present Fairmont Miramar is one of a few, fully unionized hotels in Santa Monica with a current labor contract. Union membership and wages aren’t an issue.
• With a slight reduction in hotel rooms offsetting the new condos, traffic studies conducted by the owners indicate there’ll be no additional peak hour impacts.
• An east-west building configuration minimizes view loss. There may be obstructions, but neighbors must realize that in a downtown urban setting, ocean views are neither a guarantee nor a constitutional right.
• Miramar owners seem open to reasonable public comment. While there’s still work to do, the current proposal responds to public concerns about size, appearance and traffic impacts. “The Miramar Plan” brochure is being widely circulated to engage folks, not to hide secrets.
• The Art Deco design is elegant and classic, befitting a high-end, luxury hotel/resort. However, in renderings, I think the main tower looks “fussy and overdone.” The height doesn’t bother me and I’m confident final design details will be tweaked over time.
I know some of you are thinking that I’ve either lost my marbles or have been bought off. Neither. Being of sound mind, I’ve had absolutely no contact with the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, MSD Capital, Michael Dell’s organization, their agents, partners, PR firms, etc. I’ve received no gifts, remuneration or even a lunch invitation with one exception.
That was when Alan Epstein, lead negotiator for MSD Capital, left a phone message two weeks ago uninviting me from his private meeting with neighbors, Apparently, he’d (erroneously) heard I was planning to attend and made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome.
What do you think? Inquiring minds at the Daily Press want to know.
Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail,com