MAIN LIBRARY — The sky was the limit Thursday night when community members packed the multipurpose room of the Main Library to chime in on the future of a 3-acre plot on Fifth Street at Arizona Avenue that is owned by City Hall.

The site is centrally located in Downtown with a wide mix of businesses and attractions within a five minute walk, said Andy Agle, director of housing and economic development.

“You can get money, you can get healthy, you can get fit,” Agle said. “You can even get religion in that zone.”

It’s also big enough to fit all of City Hall and most of the neighboring Police Department, dwarfing other city centers like Rockefeller Square in New York or Pioneer Square in Portland.

Planners hoped to get residents brainstorming on what they’d like to see at the site, while keeping with the basic tenants of the Land Use and Circulation Element by maximizing linkages between the new project and others nearby, including the Colorado Esplanade or the Expo Light Rail line.

“We want this to be a model of sustainable development, keeping with the LUCE,” Agle said.

Of course, he noted, the project also needs to be capable of sustaining itself and potential public benefits by bringing in enough income to make it economically viable.

With that, the audience was scattered into “break out sessions,” coordinated by city planners to encourage discussion.

Much like at the previous town hall on March 16, people called out for open space, cultural programming, a permanent ice rink and possibly a large market reminiscent of the Ferry Building in San Francisco or Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Some attendees also requested cooperative art space, independent retailers and an arts and crafts store to replace the out-going Michaels.

Although massive, obtrusive buildings had no supporters, many were able to find a compromise between height — mitigated with good architecture and appropriate massing — and the income it would bring to pay for things that the community really wanted.

Parking, always a heated issue, was built into the project by a City Council directive to replace at least some of the spaces that will be lost in the demolition of Parking Structure 3, which will be replaced by a new movie theatre and retail. The question then became whether staff will pursue largely above-ground parking, or the community-preferred subterranean garage.

Below-ground parking is very expensive, planners warned.

The plan is in its earliest stages, Agle said. From the input gathered at community meetings, staff will develop several design alternatives, which will then be reviewed in another series of community meetings.

After developing guidelines for the design, the City Council will have a chance to sign off on the concept, which then frees staff to seek out a developer. Only after the council approves the choice of a developer can the work of creating a permanent design begin.

That puts the development of the site years into the future, the hope being that it will become a Downtown destination, similar to the Third Street Promenade or Santa Monica Pier.

The site falls partially within the boundaries of Downtown Santa Monica Inc., a public-private company that runs the Downtown business district for City Hall, and represents another effort to add vitality to the thriving district, said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc., formerly the Bayside District Corp.

“The Downtown represents one of the most successful revitalization projects of public space in the world,” Rawson said as she gave a rundown of the area.

Downtown Santa Monica employs 20,000 people, has 3,300 residents and generates $470 million a year in visitor spending, Rawson said.

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