CITY HALL — When tourists and residents walk along the Santa Monica Pier, they find a bustling place with an amusement park, nationally-ranked bathrooms and a few empty store fronts.
In coming months, much of the activities of the pier will remain the same, but the architecture of how the pier is run and maintained will be fundamentally different.
At its Tuesday meeting, the City Council was read-in on staff’s recommendations to reformulate the management of the pier, beginning with its board of governors and ending with City Hall’s own task of providing maintenance and security services.
Staff’s recommendations were informed by a study completed by city employees and a second one done by Urban Place Consulting, the company run by the current executive director of the pier, Steve Gibson.
The proposals broke down into three parts: consolidating the management of operations, overhaul leasing practices and refocus the Pier Restoration Corporation, the board of managers that currently run the pier.
The city needs to be better organized with respect to its operations on the pier, said Andy Agle, director of Housing and Economic Development.
“Over time, it’s fractured among different departments,” Agle said. “No one unit is responsible for coordinating and resolving conflicts.”
To fix that, City Hall would create an Office of Pier Management, which would take care of the day-to-day operations of the pier including janitorial services and leasing. Those tasks and others are spread out across no less than five parts of City Hall right now.
City Manager Rod Gould has already tapped Airport Senior Administrative Analyst Rod Merl to run the new office.
Leasing in particular presents a problem. Right now, City Hall puts out a request for proposal to solicit new tenants for store fronts on the pier. Those requests, known in city-speak as RFPs, are foreign to most private business people, who expect a more familiar brokering process.
“While RFPs are customary in the city to hire consultants, they’re unlike how most commercial tenants are selected,” Agle said.
Businesses describe the process as unclear and unnecessarily lengthy. Instead, leasing would be run through the potential Office of Pier Management, using a commercial brokerage firm to select businesses for the pier.
Finally, staff proposes altering the purpose and composition of the Pier Restoration Corporation, a board of 11 volunteers that oversee the pier and report to the City Council.
The name “Pier Restoration Corporation” hearkens back to the early 1980s when the group was formed to oversee the process of bringing the pier back to life after a violent storm destroyed much of the iconic landmark.
Changing the name to Santa Monica Pier Corporation or Santa Monica Pier Marketing and Events Bureau would reflect the group’s new focus, specifically marketing the pier, finding sponsors, fundraising and producing big events like the annual Twilight Dance Series.
The board itself would be cut down to seven members to increase efficiency. Those members would have a two-year interim period to work out the goals and guidelines for leasing, marketing, events, promotions, create a master plan for the pier and cement the direction development at the site will take over the coming years.
Against the recommendation of Urban Place Consulting, staff proposes that the City Council appoint all members of the new board. The original proposal involved allowing the Pier Lessees Association, Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau appoint one member each.
Those organizations would be able to nominate candidates, Agle said.
Council members all supported the direction proposed by staff, but some worried that too much emphasis was being placed on making the pier a profitable entity.
The focus of the new direction should be preserving the pier, not trying to commercialize it and turn a profit, said City Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
“It’s not there to be a cash cow or a piggy bank. It’s here to be our pier, so let’s keep it that way,” McKeown said.
Ensuring that it remains “our pier” doesn’t mean staying stagnant, particularly with the amount of public investment being put into the pier not only in terms of capital improvements like the restoration of the pier bridge but in the surrounding area, said Councilmember Terry O’Day.
“The neighborhood is changing, and we’re putting in a substantial commitment to the pier … We have to make sure the pier doesn’t get left behind, that it’s well integrated,” O’Day said.
The matter will return to council for full approval in a future meeting.