CITY HALL — Carol Kleinman was at home when Tuesday night became Wednesday morning, but her attention was focused on a meeting taking place just a few miles away that was sure to impact her livelihood.
The co-President of The Artists Gallery, a cooperative art studio housed at the village of galleries on Santa Monica’s east side called Bergamot Station, watched members of the City Council wax poetic about the importance of preserving Bergamot as they signed off on a list of criteria that will be used to court developers capable of changing the fabric of the place in order to extract more revenue to support the Big Blue Bus, which technically owns the property.
The discussion continued with input from elected officials, the planning community and representatives of the Santa Monica Museum of Art, but not one gallery owner.
Those who attended the meeting had gone home as a discussion about a large hotel slated for 710 Wilshire Blvd. dragged on into its fourth hour.
Had they been there, Kleinman said, they would have asked to put the brakes on the development train rolling inexorably for what many call the “fragile ecosystem” of artists that has sprung up on the old industrial site over the past two decades.
“At this point, there isn’t much we can do about it,” she said. “I wish we’d had some more input.”
The plan presented to the City Council on Tuesday was primarily a conceptual rendering based on information gathered at two community meetings and over two dozen smaller sessions.
It stressed the retention and renovation of the existing buildings, maintaining the existing art space, a new building for the Santa Monica Museum of Art, nicer open space, parking and access for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Those improvements will cost an estimated $38 million.
For the community to get what it wants, City Hall needs to create new infrastructure and attractions.
That’s going to mean a new hotel that rents rooms at $200 per night, a restaurant and bar to go with it and creative office space.
The office buildings will ostensibly protect the galleries which will be left mostly untouched at the eastern end of the current space.
The overall configuration presented in the plan will ultimately be tweaked by whichever developer wins the contract, so what was presented Tuesday will likely not be the final design.
It was a good approximation of the level of development people can expect, said Bill Fulton of Planning Center DCE, a City Hall consultant who prepared the framework.
“Each of these additions meets one or both goals. They either strengthen the art and creative sectors or generate revenue for the city or Big Blue Bus,” Fulton said.
Gallery owners winced.
The arrival of the Exposition Light Rail Line, which involves the destruction of the Track 16 Gallery and several years of construction, will be difficult enough to cope with, said William Turner, owner of William Turner Gallery.
“If it was just that and nothing else, we would work very hard to survive and accommodate the change,” Turner said. “All of these other developments seem like interesting ideas, but if your overriding priority is to preserve what’s here as a cultural destination, go much more slowly than what’s developing.”
Turner believes that Bergamot Station is the wrong place to milk for extra revenue. He makes the case that the gallery space is by its nature an economic engine for the city in that it attracts people who then go elsewhere to spend money.
What’s more, he said, it would be a mistake to think that because Bergamot Station has thrived as an arts destination for 20 years, it will continue to do so in the face of rapid and disruptive change.
Susan Schomburg, owner of Schomburg Gallery, has already begun considering her options. Her gallery sits right across from Track 16, which will be ground zero for demolition and construction in a few short months.
“If the commotion of the construction and the dirt and vibration is so excessive that I look out my window and the people coming drops, we’re out of here,” she said.
It’s a concern both for Schomburg and the artists she features, who primarily hail from Santa Monica and Malibu.
It should be a concern for city officials, she said.
“They have a lot to lose if the arts move out of Santa Monica because of the construction,” she said. “What politician would want to have that on their record?”