PIER 59 — Santa Monica residents flocked to Pier 59 Studios Wednesday night to get in their two cents on how to support, enliven and preserve the arts venue in the face of a racing engine of change — the Exposition Light Rail line.
When the train arrives in 2015, city planners estimate that it will bring nearly 3,500 new transit riders into Santa Monica every day.
As the first Santa Monica stop on the line, Bergamot Station will not only welcome visitors, it will have the opportunity to harness the economic potential they bring, possibly to the benefit of the arts and the economic viability of the community as a whole.
With that in mind, City Hall is working to envision what direction Bergamot Station and its environs will take to keep what’s best about the arts district while making way for the incoming light rail, due to arrive in four short years.
In a way, the area is getting back to its roots.
Bergamot Station, the largest concentration of art galleries in the country and an iconic location in Santa Monica, began its life as a destination for the Red Cars of the Santa Monica Air Line train in the early 1950s.
When the train left Santa Monica, an ambitious collaboration between City Hall and private developer Wayne Blank re-purposed the industrial area for a more erudite purpose — galleries featuring a wide range of artistic uses and mediums.
“The great irony,” said Peter James, a planner with City Hall, “is that the train is coming back to Santa Monica, and Bergamot Station.”
The train brings change, but it also brings opportunity for the 7.4 acres, fit squarely into the former industrial zone of the city, which planners have put forward as the beating heart of a mixed-use creative arts district that could bring together transit, arts and commerce in a unique way.
To guide the development, staff has begun drafting the Bergamot Area Plan, a document built to provide a deeper level of detail on what the public wants to see in the 140 acres it will cover.
The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was to solicit what the public hopes to see in the area, which is bounded by 26th Street, Centinela Avenue, Exposition Boulevard and Colorado Avenue, said Francie Stefan, community and strategic planning manager for City Hall.
To do it, the audience was split into several small groups, and asked to opine on what they would like to see within that district, be it hotels, more galleries, theater space, restaurants or arts schools, among other thoughts.
Before the groups were let loose, however, James introduced Tom Nordyke, a consultant who helps art districts all over the world balance art with the money making businesses that support it.
Nordyke outlined 11 points that make a successful art district to give the audience a framework from which to attack the core problem — how to create a district that everyone wants to go to, that can also sustain itself economically.
Although land prices in Santa Monica are already high, the incoming rail line and other development in the districts are expected to drive rents up, potentially forcing out arts uses that can’t afford to pay premium prices for the space, James told the audience.
Nordyke’s ideas centered on what kinds of uses fit into the framework of an arts district, including varying types of arts education, restaurants, spaces for vibrant public art and the addition of performance venues or other cultural anchors to bring people in.
He also emphasized synergy between the small artist that is trying to get work sold in a gallery and for-profit arts like film production.
At the respective tables, individuals were given green and blue dots to symbolize uses that either brought in money to subsidize other uses or needed subsidy, respectively.
The dots were placed on maps of the wider district to create a sense of where uses should go — either closer to Bergamot Station itself, within the nearby transit village, or in the mixed-use arts district that will fall more to the northeast.
The goal was not to create a financial model, Nordyke warned, but to explore what should be kept, what was missing and where there were areas for change.
“This isn’t about Santa Monica turning on the taxpayer tap,” he said. “We can use money from competitive sources. There are all kinds of interesting models of income generation.”
The word of the night was preservation. No group came out seeking change for Bergamot Station proper, beyond the possible creation of a performing arts theater to bolster the Santa Monica Museum of Art and gallery spaces.
Instead, change was concentrated in the outlying regions, with cafes concentrated in the adjacent Bergamot Transit Village — now the home of the defunct Papermate site — and various uses placed haphazardly through the sprawling mixed-use creative arts district.
Staff will take the maps and commentary and synthesize them into a cohesive whole, said Jessica Cusick, the cultural affairs manager for City Hall.
This was the second of two workshops to solicit public opinion on the future of the Bergamot area. The third and final workshop will be held in the fall.
Updates can be found at www.bergamotplan.net.