When city planners unveiled a proposal to add a hotel and office space to the Bergamot Station Art Center last year, some residents and gallerists were up in arms.
A year later, City Council has selected a developer (Jeff Worthe Real Estate Group) but the development itself is going back to the drawing board with help from a soon-to-be appointed 11-member advisory committee.
Council decided Tuesday night to expand the committee from nine members, as recommended by city officials, to 11.
Four members will be residents, appointed by the Neighborhood Council. Four members will be appointed by the Bergamot Station Gallery and Cultural Association, with at least one being a nonprofit. One member will be appointed by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. One will be appointed by the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau. And one member will be appointed by the Arts Commission.
The advisory committee will “work with the Worthe Group to refine the conceptual plan for” the development of the Bergamot Station Art Center, city officials said.
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 a world-renowned arts haven. It is home to the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
Council also approved six guidelines for the committee to consider when shaping the direction of the development.
Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez was the only member of council to give specific direction as to what he’d like to see on the property, noting that he’d be open to adding a mid-range hotel to the property but not office space.
Councilmember Gleam Davis asked that the guidelines remain flexible so that the 11-member advisory committee could work more freely.
“I don’t want to be a slave to the guidelines,” she said. “I don’t want to form this working group of these wonderful and then have them say we have this fantastic idea but it doesn’t fit the square peg into the round hole of the guidelines. My comment is that we should have them but I don’t want to adopt them as though they are somehow cast in stone and there forever.”
City Hall’s Economic Development Manager Jason Harris said he felt that the guidelines put forth by city officials were sufficiently flexible.
“If we don’t have some level of restriction, I fear that advisory committee might be in a continual loop of re-questioning some of these objectives and not necessarily having defined expectations,” he said.
Ultimately, aside from a few tweaks, council agreed unanimously to the guidelines put forth by city officials. The guidelines are relatively open in terms of dictating what should go in at the site. The staff report, for instance, makes no mention of a hotel or of office space, which were both key components of the previous conceptual plan.
Guidelines include a goal of minimizing the displacement and disruption of galleries and creative businesses on the property. The project should, according to council, include space for nonprofit cultural uses. It will support the nearby station of the incoming Expo Light Rail, including a consideration of a public restroom. It will find a permanent home for the Santa Monica Museum of Art or, if the museum can’t find a way to feasibly continue to exist, another museum or large cultural organization. Finally, because the site was initially set aside with plans to generate revenue for the Big Blue Bus, it will maintain and increase ground rents and “generate additional municipal revenues.”
If the advisory committee — which will be filled with appointees in the coming months — can stay within those lanes, the development is theirs to shape.
Whatever the committee decides, it will come to council and the Planning Commission numerous times for review before final approval.