DOWNTOWN — The owners of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel submitted plans to the Planning Department Thursday for a major overhaul of the 1927 building, which has been losing ground to newer luxury hotels springing up in Southern California.
According to a press release, the proposed changes would shrink the total number of hotel rooms, but nearly double their size, add subterranean parking for guests and workers, create several thousand feet of new retail and create a 1-acre private open space called the Miramar Gardens, among other attributes.
The new plans would also feature prominently the landmarked Moreton Bay Fig Tree, which was originally planted on the site in 1879.
“The Miramar Hotel has been a beloved institution in the city of Santa Monica since it originally opened in 1927,” wrote Alan Epstein of MSD Capital, an affiliate of the hotel’s owner, Ocean Avenue LLC, in a press release. “The hotel market has, of course, become intensely competitive since then. Our proposed revitalization plan will ensure that the Miramar regains its stature as one of the great coastal resorts in Southern California, while at the same time contributing to the dynamic mixed-use environment that the city hopes to create in Downtown Santa Monica.”
Representatives of the hotel have met with a wide range of community groups, representatives from the hotel and City Hall said, to present their ideas for the Miramar over the course of several months, including one meeting of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., formerly the Bayside District Corp.
At that meeting, Epstein revealed preliminary plans which would triple the food and beverage space, increase retail space by a factor of 12, include for-sale condominiums, parking for all guests and employees and an off-site affordable housing component.
Downtown Santa Monica Inc. board members greeted the plans with enthusiasm.
The fact that the plans were prominently in the public eye, and in the press, caused the Planning Department to encourage the owners to prepare the development application package, said Planning Director Eileen Fogarty.
“(The developers) went through their own process of vetting this with a variety of community groups,” Fogarty said. “Our feeling was if it was going to be vetted with those groups, it was important that there be something that was here that we could share.”
Now that the development application is in, the Santa Monica process can begin, which includes community meetings and conceptual float ups to the Planning Commission and City Council “to make sure there are no surprises for the community.”
Float ups allow developers to make sure they know the thoughts and feelings of the community and city officials before spending lots of money on architectural drawings, only to be shot down later in the public process.
City Hall will also make a specific plan for the site, which will involve bringing in the community to look at the location to see what an appropriate shape, form and scale would be, as well as to pick out public amenities, Fogarty said.
“It’s a site of specific interest,” Fogarty said. “Its location, character and prominence are what come together to warrant a plan that the whole community is involved in.”
To date, there has been little backlash against the proposed design, although one group of homeowners are wary of the development.
Prior to the Planning Department getting its hands on the plans, members of the Santa Monica Bay Towers Home Owners Association did not have access to Ocean Avenue LLC’s proposals for the site, and did not know if the remodeled hotel would encroach on their ocean view.
“The only concern for our building is which part of their property they’re expanding, and in which direction,” said Will Shepler, member of the association. “If they expand toward Ocean (Avenue) or California (Avenue), it could impact views from our building and affect property values.”
Expanding toward Wilshire Boulevard or Second Street wouldn’t impact the homeowners at all.
“That’s the only concern we have, otherwise, we’re happy for them,” Shepler said.
The plans will be formally made public at various public meetings, which have yet to be scheduled. The Santa Monica portion of the process will take until spring or summer 2012, as long as nothing gets off track, Fogarty said.