The Experiment started last fall with some boldly painted Adirondack chairs and lawn games designed to invite shoppers to linger on the northernmost block of the Third Street Promenade.

Last week, The Experiment spread through the rest of the pedestrian-only shopping district, scattering colorful seating, play structures and art installations in front of stores and restaurants. Steven Welliver, deputy chief executive of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., said the new features will boost public perception of the Promenade and help it compete with other shopping destinations in the Los Angeles area.

“Having amenities in the public space that people can engage with keeps us top of mind when someone is deciding whether to visit the Promenade or other regional shopping destinations,” Welliver said.

The Promenade’s total taxable sales rose 4.2% last year after falling 8.2% between 2015 and 2017 as many stores closed due to competition from online retailers. But the Promenade is still peppered with vacant storefronts, and visitors who were surveyed last December identified other issues, such as homelessness and an overly corporate identity.

DTSM is betting that a $250,000 investment in the second phase of The Experiment will make the Promenade a more enjoyable place to shop and dine. The business improvement district will solicit feedback on The Experiment from visitors to shape Promenade 3.0, a long-term project to reimagine the shopping district.

Different elements have been installed on the Promenade’s three blocks to give each a distinct identity, Welliver said.

“The Promenade is very uniform,” he said. “In the long term design plan, we have to decide the pieces that unify all three parts of the Promenade and let the public know it’s a distinct place, and the elements of each block that give you a reason to visit all three.”

Welliver said visitors typically arrive at the 1400 block of the Promenade as they leave the Expo Line, freeway or Santa Monica Place. The survey conducted by research firm Gehl last December found the 1400 block attracts the most people, but they move on quickly.

On that southernmost block, a rainbow of Adirondack chairs lining both sides of the street and bistro tables positioned in the middle invite shoppers to stop and sit down without creating a bottleneck.

“We tried to leave that block a little more open, because people flow into the space and orient themselves,” Welliver said.

The middle block of the Promenade, where there are more restaurants and cafes, sports several long picnic tables interspersed with planters. Welliver said he could barely keep customers at nearby restaurants from taking their food out to the tables as they were being installed last Friday.

Also on the 1300 block, a play structure made out of multicolored wedges and wooden blocks that used to line the Colorado Esplanade sits between two of the Promenade’s iconic dinosaur sculptures. Above the structure, a beach ball-inspired art installation casts circular blue and green shadows.

Welliver said the play structure is meant to give families with children a place to play that feels contained from the three busy streets that separate the blocks of the Promenade.

“We have this idea of dividing the Promenade into rooms — creating spaces that are a little more intimate and feel more like a space to gather,” he said.

The Experiment has not been left unchanged on the 1200 block, where the Gehl survey recorded the lowest number of visitors and the most vacancies.

DTSM has added a small stage with daily programming scheduled until Sept. 30, which will include free salsa and fitness classes, trivia, improv, live music and family events. Bar seating, rocking chairs and rows of planters surround the stage and an overhead black-and-white art installation inspired by beach towels provides shade.

“If the entertainment is here at the north end of the Promenade, if it’s a featured element, it can act as a beacon to draw people a little farther north,” Welliver said.

DTSM will study the impacts The Experiment has made on foot traffic and other metrics after Gehl conducts a second survey this fall.

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  1. Funny to see the addition of seating/play zones. Uh, it was, what, maybe just 15 years ago when , after the installation of not-inexpensive benches, there was an expensive de-installation of the same benches because they were too often occupied by the mentally ill and others living rough in Santa Monica.

    I’ll never forget the time I saw a woman sitting on a bench and just urinate right there sitting in it. So lovely.

    Structured seating or unstructured seating … doesn’t matter until the mentally ill, the drug users and others living rough are not part of the scene.

    It’s just uncivilized. Outrageous cost of living, overpriced restaurants, etc., all juxtaposed against a humanitarian crisis. Why would anyone who actually knows what the situation is in Santa Monica and Los Angeles possibly want to put tourism dollars here when there are pleasant places to visit.

    Favorable temperatures aren’t sufficient.

  2. The promenades, entertainment, attractions and gathering places in the U. S. definitely have their history in the U.S., as well as older countries. One may approach the idea of such considering a place for commerce and exchange, but, looking more closely at the history of film and entertainment in CA and Main Street in Denver, CO , where specific social rules relative to entertainment existed and restaurants are the names of original production film studios in the industry, one must return to the idea of film, production and media. In Denver persons can play the pianos on Main Street and receive money in exchange. They can do anything to entertain and receive money in exchange. Santa Monica seems to have developed into a more specific set of social rules for promenade entertainment. Some have said that it became a place for their children to entertain and show their talents. The Promenade of Third Street looks more colorful with the new chairs which appear to be like original wooden beach chairs on the southern Atlantic shores. There are no rocking chairs which are showing up everywhere else in the U. S. with ‘sweet Tea” . Few book stores are readily visible and there continues to be a large population of homeless like in many places in the U. S. and they seem to have been forced into longer terms of homelessness and deprivation with aged, decrepit, haggard looking selves than their favorites in the latest polymer garments and colored died hair and impersonated identities of the latest corporate groups than just travelers or people coming in to meet their fame by being recognized when introducing their talent to the more afforded diners, as it was in an earlier time in Hollywood, CA, theater, and film, as well as writing, and relationships. !definition of the word Promenade!?

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