CIVIC CENTER — With the flourish of a marker and a sigh of relief, city officials and executives from developer Related Cos. “broke ground” Thursday on a $350 million housing project some eight years in the making.
The Village at Santa Monica is a 318-unit development split into three buildings on the 1700 block of Ocean Avenue.
It’s comprised of 160 affordable rental apartments and 158 market rate condominiums to be built on a 3-acre site bought by Santa Monica’s Redevelopment Agency in 2000.
Since, the project slogged its way through Santa Monica’s lengthy municipal process only to find itself stymied by a lack of financing.
Condominiums, once a solid bet in the bull economy, became an anathema to the mixed-use project already complicated by the large amount of affordable housing and a City Hall-held ground lease.
“I don’t know of another condominium project being financed right now,” said William Witte, president of developer Related California.
A deal with Resmark on the condominiums and Wells Fargo and HSBC Bank on construction costs brought the project back to life, but only after City Hall put up $19.4 million in ground lease costs and extended the life of the lease to a maximum of 149 years instead of the original 99.
Community Corporation of Santa Monica, the city’s largest affordable housing developer, partnered with Related California on the 160 affordable units.
City officials and the developer hope that the three-building complex with its shops and restaurants lining the ground floor will create a lively anchor in an otherwise quiet area, and provide a population base with access to the brand new $55 million Palisades Garden Walk Park next door and the Downtown shopping district.
Residents will also have access to the new Exposition Light Rail Line, which will have its terminus station only a few blocks away at Colorado Avenue and Fourth Street.
Developers hope that it will be completed in 2014. The lottery for the affordable units will open in 2013.
The Civic Center Village represents a return of a neighborhood to the area decades after a less civic-minded City Council forced a minority community out of the same space for the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, said Andy Agle, director of Housing and Economic Development with City Hall.
City officials in the 1950s forced African-American families out of the area to make room for the auditorium.
The new project will bring back a mixed-income population to the area for the first time since the neighborhood, called Belmar Triangle, was disbanded. One of the buildings in the Civic Center Village complex will be named Belmar in its honor.
“We cannot replace the deeds and misdeeds of the past, but we can help in some small way,” Agle said.
The celebratory atmosphere of the announcement was tempered by a cold reality.
The Redevelopment Agency, an entity funded through local taxes to fight blight and repair infrastructure, ceased to exist Feb. 1 after the California Supreme Court ruled that that the legislature could dissolve the 400 agencies in California as part of the state budget.
It was the agency that spent $53 million on the 11-acre parcel in the Civic Center area that made it possible to create the affordable housing project on the site.
Now that the RDA is gone, City Hall has lost its best tool to increase the amount of affordable housing in Santa Monica, Agle said.
“Affordable housing and sustainable development will suffer the consequences for many years to come,” Agle said.