When it comes to the future of the Third Street Promenade, think fewer chain stores and more intimate bars, lively restaurants and creative breweries.
Promenade 3.0, a project led by City Hall and Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. to reimagine the Promenade as it enters its third decade, seeks to transform the street’s sleepy after-hours scene. To do that, the city will need to roll back restrictions on live entertainment, alcohol and semi-industrial businesses like breweries that it has imposed on the Promenade over the years.
The Planning Commission met Wednesday to discuss how to tweak the district’s zoning to attract businesses that can offer visitors a reason to stay after retail stores close.
Commissioner Richard McKinnon said he believes the street needs a nighttime economy to remain profitable in the long-term as consumers turn away from brick-and-mortar retail.
“It comes down to giving people what they want. People want to drink in small, intimate spaces and enjoy live music,” McKinnon said. “We need to drive and allow this change from what we have now — which is static and dead — to alive and vibrant.”
Commissioner Shawn Landres said he supported removing the restriction on breweries, distilleries and coffee roasters because they offer a type of experiential retail that will survive the continuing growth of online shopping.
“The notion that you could learn to brew your own beer in a brewing class and that people could walk by and see it is really cool,” he said.
The commission received some correspondence from people who oppose bars on the Promenade, said Commissioner Leslie Lambert. She noted, however, that they would be unlikely to cross paths with people who go to the Promenade to drink.
“It’s important to remember that the people who are there at 3 p.m. are not the same people who are going to be there at midnight,” Lambert said.
The commission will need to recommend to the City Council several changes to the Promenade’s zoning to foster the type of environment that Promenade 3.0 stakeholders envision.
Currently, a restaurant must adhere to 26 different rules to serve alcohol if they don’t want to go through the lengthy process of applying for a conditional use permit, said Alan Loomis, an urban designer for the city who is helping lead Promenade 3.0. Additional rules apply if restaurants wish to offer live entertainment, he said.
But those rules are relatively recent, Loomis said, and many restaurants that serve alcohol operate under legacy regulations.
“The idea is that if we could simplify the rules for alcohol exemptions, everyone would use those simplified rules,” he said.
Loomis also recommended letting businesses rent spaces that open onto the Promenade’s alleys.
Businesses want less square footage on the Promenade than they used to, he said, and the smaller spaces along its alleys would be in demand if the city removed requirements that Promenade businesses have to maintain a loading dock and dumpsters in the alleys.
Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. CEO Kathleen Rawson said businesses don’t use their loading docks. While trash storage is a more complicated matter, she said, businesses have options besides the alley.
Commissioners said they supported using the alleys as places for pedestrians to gather and shop.
“When we talk about retail in the alley, we’re talking about smaller retail,” Lambert said. “Hopefully, it will be those small, locally owned businesses that we need more of.”