People enjoy the sun and breeze while they walk along the Santa Monica Pier on Tuesday afternoon. The Pier Restoration Corp., a nonprofit that manages and promotes the pier for City Hall, is embarking on a study to see if the pier can be better managed and bring in more revenue.

SM PIER — The Pier Restoration Corp. may be in for a makeover pending the results of a study it commissioned last week that will examine the current model used to manage the historic Santa Monica Pier and its finances.

Before the study moves forward, the matter will be taken to the City Council on Tuesday, May 3.

At present, the PRC, a nonprofit formed in 1983 to help manage and promote the pier, and City Hall share responsibilities for the iconic tourist destination, many of which overlap as a result of the pier’s dual nature as a public location dominated by private businesses.

“If we were just a pier, we’d be Venice Pier. If we were just a park, we’d be Disneyland,” said PRC Vice Chair Kent Smith. “It’s the elements of both that make the pier an exciting and interesting place.”

That dichotomy can make the division of responsibilities for the pier “gray and muddled,” Smith said.

At the April 20 meeting, the PRC board voted unanimously to hire interim executive director Steve Gibson’s company, Urban Place Consulting, to study how City Hall and the PRC manage the pier now, and what could be done to improve both management and service.

“There was a question from the city and the PRC, which should be asked by all places and organizations: ‘Are we doing the best we can?’” Gibson said. “The process we’re going through is really looking at that.”

It’s the second step in a series Gibson started last year by looking at nine public spaces across the country that share attributes with the pier to see how they are managed.

The new phase, expected to be completed by the end of the year, will examine how the PRC and City Hall partner with services, what the financial implications are of that effort and if a better model exists or can be created that would make the relationship more efficient.

At present, both City Hall and the PRC have a role in the finances of the pier, and many of the decision-making and management processes overlap each other, Gibson said.

“On a number of items, there are several layers and stops you have to make to get a decision,” Gibson said.

One of the most salient problems with the pier comes from finances.

Although City Hall collects revenues from the pier, parking, tenants and other activities, that money goes into maintaining and preserving the pier, as well as providing police and maintenance services, said Miriam Mack, economic development manager.

“The revenue does not cover the operating costs, and none of the capital costs,” Mack said. “That includes an emergency gangway, repairs to roofs — any number of infrastructure projects.”

A 10-year study already conducted by City Hall revealed that the pier will need approximately $20 million in repairs over the next 10 years, none of which is currently covered by the revenues that the attraction brings in, Mack said.

That’s on top of $10 million put into repairing the aging structure just within the past several years.

“If there are ways to generate more income, this is a good time to take a big picture view and take a look at that,” Mack said.

All sides stress that no one knows what the results of the study will be, and that the study will be approached with an open mind.

Gibson will be paid an additional $2,500 per month by the PRC for a total of $10,000 per month beginning in April through the end of December to bring in staff from his firm to complete the study.

The City Manager’s Office is expected to recommend to the City Council that City Hall shoulder half the cost of the increase, Gibson said.

Gibson’s Urban Consulting was also hired at the meeting to conduct a pedestrian count on the pier. That contract is worth $3,567.50.

The study has implications for the PRC as an organization, which is in a state of flux now as it searches for a new executive director.

The mission of the PRC has evolved over the 28 years since it was formed in response to a violent storm that wiped out nearly a third of the pier’s length.

The pier’s restoration, and success as a destination in Santa Monica, has led the organization, in partnership with City Hall, to look at the future, said Kate Vernez, assistant to the City Manager.

“By all accounts, it’s effectively restored, and now is a time to examine the mission and function of the oversight organizations,” Vernez said. “In addition, it creates an opportunity to look at the needs and direction of the pier and the organization that oversees it.”

What kind of organization the PRC morphs into will inform the search for the new executive director, Vernez said.


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