The Third Street Promenade is poised to add three new features designed to attract visitors and encourage them to linger after installing new outdoor seating and games at the north end of the shopping district last September.
Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM), will be moving forward with its Promenade 3.0 plan based on data gathered in a recent survey, which found that two-thirds of visitors to the Promenade come from Santa Monica or Los Angeles, foot traffic in the shopping district peaks around 3 p.m. and people tend to move through the street without stopping.
DTSM is revitalizing the Promenade to shield it from the effects of the nationwide “retail apocalypse” caused by the growth of online shopping. So far, the shopping district hasn’t been immune: total taxable sales fell 2.9 percent in 2017. But DTSM is betting that experimenting with new improvements to the Promenade’s public space, such as moveable seating, games, food and drinks festivals, art and light installations or public gardens, will lure visitors with a more holistic experience they can’t get online.
“The study confirmed we’re an amazing street but also highlighted some ways we can change the physical plan to make it more comfortable, fun and accessible to a wider group of people,” said DTSM CEO Kathleen Rawson. “We understand the retail environment is changing and people’s individual wants and needs are changing, and it’s an opportunity for us to make some shifts that appeal to locals and visitors alike.”
Gehl, an urban research and design firm, trained community volunteers to administer its Public Space Public Life Survey in December. The Copenhagen-based company has conducted the survey in public spaces around the world, including Times Square in New York and Market Street in San Francisco.
Volunteers tracked how long pedestrians spent on each block, recorded the age, ethnicity and income of visitors, and asked people what they liked about the Promenade and what they want to see change. Gehl also studied what modes of transportation people use to get to the district, how the Promenade interacts with the rest of downtown and how its façades affect the pedestrian experience.
Many visitors said they wanted retail and dining options that catered to different price points, fewer chain stores, opportunities to eat and drink outside and more activities for children. Rawson said DTSM has been working closely with the City of Santa Monica to foster independent businesses by streamlining the opening process.
“We know a diversity in retail is an attractive feature and it’s something we absolutely desire,” Rawson said. “If I’m an independent entrepreneur, I want to be near the Apple Store because it creates a lot of foot traffic for my store. We want recognizable brands people gravitate to … and independent stores.”
This phase of Promenade 3.0 is not focusing on the mix of businesses, however. The hope is that providing more reasons for people to spend time in the Promenade’s public space will encourage them to visit its private spaces as well – in other words, shop and dine.
Starting in March, DTSM will be working with Gehl, Rios Clemente Hale Studios and civil engineering firm KPFF to experiment with three new design concepts for the Promenade. In the report on the survey, the consultants outline dozens of short-term and long-term improvements DTSM could choose that have successfully activated public spaces around the world.
“While we don’t have a specific place we’re trying to model on, what we definitely want to do is reinvigorate our very special place,” Rawson said. “We were a leader in the 80s and for a long time, people emulated what we had, and now there are lots of examples that look a lot like the Promenade. Now, we once again have to take that leadership role and amplify what’s special about downtown.”
Some stakeholders are skeptical that investing in the Promenade’s public spaces will translate to higher sales, however. At a meeting on the report Thursday, Scott Schonfeld, who owns The Gallery Food Hall and is a member of DTSM’s board of directors, questioned whether the investment property owners would have to make in the improvements would be worth it. (Property owners fund DTSM, a business improvement district, through assessments on their properties.)
“We don’t care that much if people are spending time in the street outdoors, we care if people spend a lot of time at a store or restaurant,” Schonfeld said. “If people are sitting outside for two hours and not shopping or eating, that’s not great.”
Gehl partner Blaine Merker said his experience has shown him that the future of retail and dining includes merging indoor and outdoor space.
“What we’re seeing more and more with retail streets we work on is people are coming for a combination of the space inside and the space outside,” Merker said. “Retail is changing, and culture can become an anchor of the shopping experience.”
DTSM has held two public meetings on the report so far and will present again at the Planning Commission on Mar. 6 at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 1685 Main Street.