The Santa Monica Pier will be pulling funds from some programs this year to invest more money in its banner events, including a new Halloween celebration.
The pier has launched or rebranded several events since Negin Singh became executive director of the Santa Monica Pier Corp. in January 2018. Since last summer, it hosted its first holiday celebration in more than a decade, served as one of the main hubs for Santa Monica’s inaugural Pride Month and doubled attendance for Pier 360, a sporty start-of-summer festival.
Singh said she wants to continue the momentum over the next year with new and elevated programming.
“I don’t want to throw free events, I want to throw “I can’t believe it’s free” events,” she said. “We’re a destination people from all over the world dream about coming to. If they come here, it needs to be amazing.”
One new celebration this year will be dedicated to Halloween, Singh said. Depending on the amount of funding the event gets from partners and sponsors, it could range from an installation on and around the Merry-Go-Round Deck to a spooky multiweek occasion.
“People go to other attractions in Los Angeles for Halloween and I think the pier deserves to have a piece of that Halloween action,” she said.
The new offerings come with a tradeoff, however. To launch programming like Halloween and expand tentpole events such as Twilight on the Pier, the pier will say goodbye to smaller events like Front Porch Cinema, ProCon and Steam Machines.
Singh said Front Porch Cinema, a series that started in 2012 and screened four movies on the pier each year, was very expensive and time-consuming to put on compared to the relatively small number of people it served. It cost two-thirds of what it costs to produce Pier 360, which drew 20 times more attendees earlier this month, she said.
“The events we’re cutting were really loved by the people who came to them, but we have to make decisions about the best events we can make vs. the most events we can make,” Singh said.
Singh said the pier is courting new events from outside producers so the pier team can focus on banner events. For example, other companies may want to screen movies at the pier after Front Porch Cinema is discontinued.
The pier is also focusing on growing and diversifying its revenues so it doesn’t have to rely on income from events and funding from corporate partners or the city, Singh said.
It will launch a pay-to-download app on its 110th anniversary this fall that visitors can use to tour the pier and learn about its history, which could radically impact the pier’s budgets in the next few years, she said. It has set a goal of growing its rental business by 25% and plans to capitalize on the advertising potential of its social media platforms.
“For too long, the situation for the Pier Corp. was if Twilight on the Pier goes down, everything goes down,” she said. “We’re working really hard to not be that vulnerable.”
Other plans for this year include making over the Merry-Go-Round Deck as construction on Ocean Front Walk concludes and Starbucks Coffee opens, creating branded content like “A Day at the Pier” or “Foodies Guide to the Pier,” and improving traffic flow at the top and bottom of the pier bridge.
“Last year was spent fixing and building the ship. This year is about the direction the ship is going to go,” Singh said. “We’re looking at every single thing we do and thinking about how to make it the best it can be.”