By Michael Feinstein. Inside/Outside. February 24, 2015
There is magic ahead of us, if we cap the I-10 freeway between Ocean Avenue and 4th Street and create great public spaces on top.
Tonight the City Council is going to take up interim uses for the City-owned property adjacent to the Expo light rail station at 4th/Colorado. In the first part of this two-part column, I made the argument for also giving City Staff direction to commence upon a comprehensive, long-term planning process for what I’m calling the Arcadia Corridor — the area from Ocean Avenue to the Expo light rail station, and between Colorado Avenue and the Civic Center. Here are some potential pieces of the plan, from west to east:
A new green park on the cap over the top of the I-10 freeway between Ocean Avenue and Main Street. After a beautiful and densely planned space at Tongva Park, a mostly open and green change of pace makes sense next door. We might name it after Arcadia Bandini Stearns, Santa Monica co-founder, whose famous namesake hotel built in 1887, was at the foot of the beach just west of this area.
Immediately adjacent is the Wyndham Hotel, whose owners the Felcor Corporation are seeking to tear it down and build a new hotel. Because the width of the I-10 freeway and its embankments are so narrow directly east of the McClure Tunnel, to actually build the freeway cap there, its necessary to phase the capping effort in conjunction with the new hotel project. The folks at Felcor have been open and interested in working with the City on this, and having their design relate to the park. But they need a clear sign that the City wants to make this happen.
Sears Building as cultural center
Right in the middle of the Arcadia Corridor is the Sears building, built in 1947 and landmarked by the City in 2004. That landmarking status is important, because it means the building’s facade is not going to change. That affects what the future use will be, because the building has few windows — and won’t have more in the future. That likely means no commercial office space or residential. But it could mean an incredible world class cultural site, like a museum or theatre that doesn’t need windows. With three floors (two above, one below), the possibilities are great.
Then there is Sears’ 200-car parking lot. That is where the real big development potential comes — or is it? Deemed an “opportunity site” during the City’s LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element) process, one might think the folks at Sears — or whomever they might sell the property to, if they were to sell — would seek more office, housing and retail. Except that’s not what makes sense there.
It’s not in the City’s interest for any future development of the Sear’s site to block the westward views from the Expo station, which was built on a raised platform for the great view towards Tongva Park and the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, any new traditional development there would likely bring in many more car trips through the existing curb cut into Sears’ parking (which we want to go away), conflicting with the stream of pedestrians heading down the Colorado Esplanade from Expo. This is not a conflict we want to encourage, nor do we want to invite more auto traffic to the already stressed 4th/Colorado intersection.
Rather, greatness could be achieved by capping the I-10 freeway between Main and 4th and creating public plazas and walkways and complimentary low rise restaurant/retail there and in the current Sears parking area, adjacent to a world cultural facility in the Sears building.
A global RFQ/RFP (Request Qualifications/Proposals) could seek out who in the global cultural community has the interest and financial wherewithal to take advantage of such an opportunity. Since the City would likely be building parking on the east side of 4th St. south of the Expo station, the purchase/remodel could become affordable because the owners would not have to build their own parking, and still be profitable for Sears in a sale, rather than having an inappropriate project voted down by the Council or in a referendum by residents.
Parking Shift/Affordable Housing
Part of the concept behind new city parking south of the Expo Station (including the gained new space by the likely southward realignment of the existing 4th Street off-ramp to Olympic Dr.), is creating parking next to the freeway as a tool for people to exit, park and walk into downtown — instead of driving there to look for parking.
To further the parking supply shift, we could take down City parking structure #1 on the west side of 4th St. just south of Wilshire, the spaces from which would be replaced by the freeway adjacent structure and underground in the city project at 4th/5th/Arizona — then use that site which we already own to build more affordable housing, addressing our jobs/housing balance and reducing even more traffic and pollution by allowing more downtown workers to live closer to work.
Loma Santa Monica
What happens on top of the freeway adjacent parking, which should mostly be underground? While we’ll likely want a public plaza immediately to the south of the Expo station, there will be a lot of space there because of the 4th St. off-ramp realignment. Why not reward our residents by creating a hill on top of the parking — Loma Santa Monica, where people can hike up and have a truly amazing view westward? We could even design new sets of stairs to run up and down like on Adelaide Dr. Too often the best views go to those with the most money in luxury high rise condos, luxury hotels or top-end commercial office spaces. This is a chance to give a little of that perspective to all of us.
Two part series:
Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor (2000-2002) and City Councilmember (1996-2004). He can be reached via Twitter @mikefeinstein
‘Inside/Outside‘ is a periodic column about civic affairs Feinstein writes for the Daily Press, that takes advantage of his experience inside and outside of government.