To the City Council, residents and supporters of the Santa Monica Pier:

The Santa Monica Pier is one of the great treasures on the West Coast. It has stood the test of time and serves as one of the great examples of how preservation and entrepreneurship can combine to make an icon known around the world. Decades of public and private investment, battles over preservation and character and passionate community involvement have made the pier the internationally renowned venue that it is today.

I spent 10 years working on the pier and got to know its deck boards, piles, buildings and vast array of colorful and passionate people. I learned a great deal, and as many of you know, grew in ways I never imagined possible. One of the things that I learned about the place, this great public space, was that for all of its triumphs it remains a fragile venue. Made of wood and worn by harsh conditions and heavy use the pier requires daily attentive care.

If history tells us anything, it is that change is something we can count on. It also shows us paths that lead to less then desirable outcomes. While you consider how best to manage the pier going forward, I strongly implore you to not just look at current operating models, but to look at its history. Who are the pier’s champions, where have they historically come from, and what has been their goal?

My own reading of the history tells a pretty clear story. The champions of the pier are not big business, financial prosperity or political agendas. The champions of the pier are the citizens, the daily fisherman, the small businesses and the visitors, both daily and yearly that walk the deck and appreciate the quirky mix of entertainment, characters, history, views and ocean air. My wife often described the folks that form the soul of the pier as those brave pioneers who traveled west, beat long odds and when arriving on the shores of the Pacific decided that it was not enough, so out over the waves they went.

A few questions that should be asked as a new direction for the pier is established: Is the pier a place to be managed or facilitated? Is it a place of and for the public to be nurtured or is it a place to be planned and programmed? Who can provide the tools to facilitate the kind of creative growth and entrepreneurship that have repeatedly defined the pier’s rebirths? Should the benefits of the pier be limited to the dollars generated on its deck boards? Or should the value be determined by the millions of impressions generated both in media and the memories of millions of annual visitors?

I have seen the long list of qualified candidates who have applied for the interim board. The quality and breadth of applicants is telling, this is without doubt an opportunity that calls for great leadership, and great leaders are responding. One wise word of direction for the new board that I heard echoed again and again by founding members of the Pier Restoration Corp. (PRC); leave your personal agenda at the door. You will do your best work together when you join in working for the best interests of the pier.

When our individual agendas outweigh the need to rally around a common cause and when financial prosperity wins out against preservation, history shows that the pier suffers. Of course, history also shows that the pier has the power to correct course and restore. As the tides of conversation appear to be shifting from restoration (the active process of preserving) to management, budget efficiencies and fundraising, it would be wise to note that the champions of the pier, the small businesses, the fishermen (and women) and the daily visitors watch closely as the balance of interests are juggled once again. For nearly three decades the PRC facilitated that balance with great success providing the leadership that allowed the pier to regain prosperity not seen since the 1920s and ‘30s.

With City Hall assuming greater responsibility for pier operations and leasing, the tides of leadership are shifting again. The effects of these changes will not be known for decades to come. It is clear, however, that the beginning of the pier’s next chapter will be written by the seven folks appointed by the City Council this week. To the fortunate seven I encourage you to become students of the pier, to listen to all the voices, not just the loudest or most articulate. Study its history, both written and oral. As you deliberate and develop plans over the following two years, visit often at different hours and talk to those you meet. I can tell you from personal experience that I often learned more talking to the community sitting on a bench toward the west end then I did sitting in the office.

To the small businesses on the pier, the community, general public and pier regulars, I encourage you to be active in the process, make sure your voice is heard. Be open to change that compliments and enhances the character of the pier. But don’t shy from defending character and history if they are threatened. A great future depends on attention and passion in the present.

The Santa Monica Pier is one of the country’s great public spaces and it will take a committed public and committed leadership to ensure that it continues to shine for future generations. A past PRC chair was fond of saying, "Take care of this great lady, because my great-great grandchildren are looking forward to a visit." His first grandchildren are visiting the pier today. I look forward to the day my great grandchildren stand next to his, and yours, for the legacy of the Santa Monica Pier is a shared legacy, one shared by all.

Franz-Knight is the former executive director of the Pier Restoration Corp. He now serves in the same capacity for the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority in Seattle.

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