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BERGAMOT STATION — Plans for the future of the city’s world-renowned art center are headed back to City Council next week.
After sending the proposal to the Arts Commission earlier this year, council is again being asked to choose between three developers who plan to add, among other things, a hotel and creative office space to the Bergamot Station Arts Center.
City Hall owns about five of the complex’s seven acres. Those five acres are what is being considered for development.
City officials continue to recommend the 26Street TOD Partners, which, they say, proposes the lowest amount of commercial development with the smallest hotel and the least creative office. It would not offer the highest economic return to City Hall, they say.
The area served as a railroad station from 1875 through the 1950s. After the station closed it was a manufacturing site. Santa Monica officials bought the land in the late 1980s and Bergamot Station opened as an art center in 1994. Over the years it grew into an arts haven. It is home to the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
Revenues from the land are set aside for the Big Blue Bus. Currently BBB collects $528,000 per year from the lease, which expires in 2018.
Under City Hall’s recommended developer, revenues would jump to around $1.5 million.
While the art center has proved successful, city officials say, BBB’s financial future needs to be considered as well.
“Were the City to place top priority on enhancing lease revenues to the BBB, the proposed development concept could be very different in its form and financial outcomes,” city officials said in a report. “For example, if the site were valued comparably to other properties in the area, and if the City expected a market-rate return on its property, the property could generate several million dollars per year to the BBB.”
They call the plan, which intends to preserve the arts community while developing the hotel and office, a compromise.
Some residents and gallerists have been vocal in their dislike for the plan. They call into question the need for development. They say that parking would be insufficient. The construction of on-site parking, they say, would necessitate some temporary relocation and destroy the galleries.
Many have called for off-site parking to be located at City Yards, right next door. City officials say that the yard is currently vital to City Hall’s Public Works Department. Transition of the property to a parking garage wouldn’t be possible until 2021, they say.
Last month, the Arts Commission reviewed the project and the three proposed developers and recommended, in a vote of 4 to 3 with one abstention, that council move forward with 26Street TOD.
The Lionstone Group, a member of the 26Street team, already owns property next to the station.
Wayne Blank, often labeled the visionary behind the arts complex, owns 1.3 acres of land next to the publicly owned property. At the Arts Commission meeting, Blank acknowledged rumors that his plot of land has been sold.
When asked about it directly he said: “I brought it up but I’m not about to speak about it.”
Blank had previously been a part of one of the two development teams not recommended by City Hall but he withdrew from the process earlier this year, urging council to reconsider the entire project.
Next Tuesday, council members could decide to do just that or they could opt to move forward with any of the three developers.
Whatever they decide, the process is far from over. If they select one of the three developers, that team will have to flesh the project out and work its way through City Hall’s development agreement process, which will include another review from council.
dave@www.smdp.com

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