The organization that oversees downtown Santa Monica has spent the last year revamping the Third Street Promenade, making it easier for businesses to open and launching new events.
Sales have declined in the city’s downtown core in the past few years as its main shopping destinations, the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place, have struggled to adapt to the rise of online retail. In 2018, however, businesses in the area generated $1.2 billion in total taxable sales, a 6.4% increase over the previous year.
Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the area’s business improvement district, embarked on several projects over the past year that may continue the upward sales trend into 2019 according to officials.
The most transformative of those projects is Promenade 3.0, a long-term plan to draw visitors to the shopping district and invite them to linger. DTSM is reimagining the design of the Promenade and introducing events and marketing strategies, while the city of Santa Monica is changing local regulations and code to attract desired tenants.
An early component of Promenade 3.0 launched last November. To test whether offering new amenities in the Promenade’s public space would change how visitors used the space, DTSM placed boldly painted Adirondack chairs, lawn games and pianos on the northernmost block of the Third Street Promenade. The installation was dubbed “The Experiment.”
“The Promenade is busy, and because of that flow of traffic down the street, people keep moving. So we started thinking about the idea of stickiness — that we needed to give people invitations to … extend their experience and spend more time in the street,” said deputy chief executive Steven Welliver said at DTSM’s annual meeting Thursday.
Of the 27,000 visitors that DTSM surveyed, 83% were happy with the new amenities, he said.
Last week, The Experiment spread through the other two blocks of the Promenade, scattering colorful seating, play structures and art installations in front of stores and restaurants. Around the end of the year, Welliver said, DTSM will present a design concept for Promenade 3.0 that is informed by the results of The Experiment.
DTSM held its first Pride Month celebration, partnering with the city of Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Pier Corp. and Santa Monica Place to host a citywide Pride celebration called SaMo Pride.
The month of June was loaded with family-friendly events that paid tribute to the contributions made by the LGBTQ+ members of the Santa Monica community, said DTSM CEO Kathleen Rawson. DTSM held a centerpiece Pride on the Promenade event June 15, which drew almost 120,000 pedestrian impressions.
“It was the first time in six years that DTSM was allowed by the city to produce an event of that size,” Rawson said. “We hope to expand upon this with more large-scale events.”
DTSM also addressed two issues that are frequently cited as a barrier to doing business in downtown Santa Monica: the district’s high concentration of homelessness and the red tape around setting up shop in the area.
DTSM set aside two members of its ambassadors program, which it expanded in 2016, to specifically focus on quality of life issues like mental health issues, antisocial behavior or criminal activity. Rawson said the ambassadors also help people connect with services and reunite with family.
In 2018, the ambassadors each interacted with more than three people per hour, she said.
DTSM created a tenant recruitment website called choosesantamonica.com that includes an interactive, step-by-step guide to opening a business in Santa Monica. Prospective tenants can view guides to zoning, construction, licensing and parking tailored to their business and the location they hope to move into.
“With this feature, users answer simple yes or no questions to create a path for who they need to contact for permits and approvals before they open,” Rawson said.