With the departure of Whole Foods from the corner of 5th and Wilshire, Downtown lost one of its two grocery stores and while a new tenant will be a retail operation of some kind, reoccupation by a grocer is not a guarantee.
Tim Bower, Sr. Vice President with CBRE real estate is handling the lease for the site and said it remains as, if not more, attractive to potential tenants as it was 20 years ago when he first handled the lease.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from multiple tenants, several of which are grocers and a number of which are other kinds of retail,” he said. “There are a variety of options there.”
He said the site is an increasingly rare find on the Westside: a freestanding building with its own parking. It’s a site that is so well suited to retail, he doesn’t see a possibility it becomes office space.
“We’re not talking to anybody that would be creative office for this type of building,” he said.
Santa Monica is already home to 11 grocery stores within the city’s 8.5 square mile area with several more just outside city limits. A mixed-use project at 23rd and Wilshire has been approved with a possible grocery tenant although the project is still under construction and no lease has been signed. Potential development at the corner of 5th and Broadway has also been envisioned with a potential grocery tenant but the site is still years away from any new construction.
The vacancy downtown follows the old Post Office site returning to the market and the planned redevelopment of the Sears property.
City Staff said the economic impact of a grocery vs. retail store is similar as both generate sales tax for the city but there are other benefits beyond tax revenue.
Jennifer Taylor Economic Development Administrator for the City of Santa Monica said grocery stores are an important driver of the local economy. They often employee more people than similar sized retail stores, they drive foot traffic to the area, provide a vital service to residents and can increase the perceived value of a neighborhood.
Easy access to a grocery store is also important to the City as it promotes housing downtown.
“Grocery stores are helpful when you’re trying to promote vibrant mixed use with residential and commercial,” she said.
Taylor said a successful downtown environment depends on providing services to residents and the business community.
“People want local convenience stores, opportunities they can walk to and having a new grocery store coming into that space would be welcome for that as the city continues to promote mixed use,” she said. “That store particularly was really helpful in serving the Silicon Beach and office sector. People were walking there and getting their lunch and their coffee. That type of use as opposed to retail space is more supportive of a mixed-use environment.”
The site is zoned for retail activity in the recently approved Downtown Community Plan (DCP).
Planners said they developed the DCP before Whole Foods chose to leave the site and the plan doesn’t contemplate turnover at the location and the underlying zoning doesn’t call out specific businesses for a site, just what’s possible on a site.
“The DCP doesn’t establish uses,” said Planner Peter James. “It’s just the standards and regulations. It describes what is permitted within that land use district.”
He said a retail/grocery tenant wouldn’t face any regulatory hurdles in reoccupying the site.
While the site’s ability to service Wilmont residents, downtown residents and the downtown business community make it desirable for a grocery store, the final decision will be dictated by the market.
“It’s a very unique and desirable asset,” said Taylor.