The Fairmont Miramar has been in the news again recently. On Monday college students and others protested the way that Michael Dell arranged the purchase of the Miramar so as to minimize his property tax ( “Education group blasts Dell, Fairmont Miramar over taxes,” Oct. 29).
MSD lead negotiator Alan Epstein is surely right to respond that Mr. Dell, in doing so, stayed within the letter of the law. Any self-respecting businessman who doesn’t exploit to the utmost existing tax loopholes is, after all, not worth his salt. The only lesson concerning the Miramar redevelopment project to draw from the matter is that we should expect Dell’s people to approach the political and legal process of negotiating a development agreement with City Hall in approximately the same frame of mind. They are not a charitable organization and will offer the city nothing out of vague benevolence.
More interesting is the story about The Bungalow nightclub being temporarily suspended. What’s interesting is not that the management neglected to get the proper license to serve alcohol there. It’s this: The Bungalow is a wildly successful nightspot that offers a totally unique open-air experience. And its spatial existence literally depends on two things — a low brick wall on Ocean Avenue, and the bungalow itself, which the current Miramar proposal would destroy. If built as MSD wishes to, with the large swathe on the southwest part of the property cleared of improvements, this exciting nighttime destination would be impossible to put on.
The story gives us a chance to reflect on the beauty and value of the sheltered open areas around the large fig tree on the existing Miramar grounds, nestled by The Bungalow and circumscribed by the low wall. Unlike the ugly existing banquet rooms and loading dock on Second Street, this enclosed area has considerable ambiance and appeal as an area of reception and gathering. Whether the “opening up” of access to the tree by the tearing down of the wall and bungalow will provide the city with anything of more value can be earnestly questioned, especially since it would come at the attendant cost of having the new 21-story central tower looming above.
Santa Monica is actually home to quite a few high-rise buildings, but this new central tower, stretching full across the block from Ocean to Second up to the 15th floor, would be more enormous than any of these, by far.
Which brings me to a final thought. There has been considerable discussion about whether the Miramar project is a hotel revitalization or a condo development, and whether a condominium component is truly necessary for the project. The folks at the Miramar say that they need condos because they provide the quick return that’s required to get financing. Whatever the truth is about this, one thing is plain: In the current proposal the condos architecturally dominate and define the whole project. They’d occupy the fifth to 21st floor of the central tower, and reap all of the project’s most spectacular views, while the hotel’s guest rooms and amenities would be confined to the lower and more humble six- and four-story buildings.
Architecturally, that is not some condos added on to a hotel project out of financial necessity, it’s an enormous new condominium tower, with some hotel functions included in ancillary fashion about its base.
David William Martin