CITY HALL — Bulldozers could soon be the new Priuses in Downtown Santa Monica.

A slate of projects in the city’s commercial core and adjacent Civic Center planned for the next five years promises to transform the most iconic parts of the city — and to pose some serious challenges for businesses, their customers and City Hall planners during construction.

No matter how you spin it, the list of projects expected to break ground before 2015 is impressive. It includes the renovation of the California Incline, the re-building of a Downtown parking structure on Second Street, a new Civic Center park, the Expo Light Rail station on Colorado Avenue and a multi-screen movie theater slated for Fourth Street. There’s also the Civic Auditorium renovation, an expansion at Santa Monica High School, a new bridge leading up to the pier and The Village housing development across from City Hall.

Tonight, Santa Monica officials overseeing the projects will present their plan to deal with the impacts to the City Council, and residents and business people will get an opportunity to raise concerns.

Mayor Richard Bloom said everyone who will be affected by road closures and other inconveniences needs to recognize that there will be some unavoidable disturbances. In the end, he argued, the benefits of the projects will be well worth their costs.

“The staff is looking at this as a time when there will be some level of disruption, and the objective is to minimize that,” he said. “We simply cannot have progress on these issues without experiencing some level of disruption, but the dividend at the end of the day is that our downtown area is going to be even more spectacular than it is now.”

Chief among concerns for business people is the impact the projects pose to parking in the commercial core. According to a tentative construction schedule contained in a City Hall report, the re-construction of Parking Structure No. 6 on Second Street is expected to overlap with the demolition of Parking Structure No. 3 on Fourth Street, which is being removed to make room for the planned movie theater project.

That could mean a temporary net loss of about 680 parking spaces during 2013 while construction of both projects is underway, though a temporary lot at Arizona Avenue and Fifth Street could mitigate the loss.

Don Patterson, City Hall’s parking guru, said he’s been making the rounds with a plan to offset the temporary decline in available parking spaces and believes there’s significant buy-in from the business community.

“They recognize that there’s going to be an impact and the impact should be on those that stay parked all day” rather than on those who come to shop, he said.

To that end, City Hall plans to require some 500 people who have monthly permits to park Downtown to shift to Civic Center and Main Library structures, which should free up more spaces next to stores for shoppers and visitors to Downtown offices, he said.

Parking rates could also change, he said, in order to incentivize parking in the peripheral structures, which typically have empty spaces during peak hours while the centrally located lots are at capacity.

Also on the table are new “wayfinding improvements” like better signs and a smart phone application to help direct drivers to available parking. A shuttle system to connect the peripheral parking structures to Downtown is also under discussion.

Kathleen Rawson, the CEO of the Bayside District Corp., which manages Downtown and represents merchants’ interests, said some concern remains about how construction will affect business over the next several years, though she agreed the planned projects are “good for the long-term vitality” of Downtown.

She said most of her organization’s members are on board with the thrust of City Hall’s strategy but are reserving judgment until they see the results.

“I don’t get a sense that people are going to say, ‘Oh my god this is horrific plan, stop what you’re doing’” at tonight’s meeting, she said. “I do get the sense that the city will get pressed for details.”

Bayside stakeholders are pleased City Hall has prepared a comprehensive plan to offset construction impacts and that officials have announced their intention to implement what they call the “interim parking plan” before projects get underway, she added.

Patterson said several elements of the strategy will take effect before summer.

“We look forward to starting implementation this spring so that we can make any needed adjustments before the major construction projects start in 2012,” he said.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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