Plans to renovate the park that contains Santa Monica’s most-used baseball and softball fields and the city’s only public gym and skate park will go forward as proposed — with a few suggested tweaks from the City Council.
Over 4.5 to 6 years of construction, Memorial Park will be joined with an adjacent city-owned site to create a larger park with new sports fields and community amenities to meet an increasing demand for recreational activities, said city spokesperson Constance Farrell.
City Hall marked the park for redevelopment in 1997, but did not start work on the project until 2018, when it hired an architectural consultant to study the site and solicit community input before drawing up a master plan.
After an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 years of construction, Memorial Park will have seven new diamond sports fields and four will be able to accommodate simultaneous games. Of the six fields currently located at the park, only two allow teams to play at the same time.
Those first two phases of construction will also add a walking loop with exercise stations, a larger skate park, 49 new parking spaces in a covered parking lot for a total of 128 spaces, tennis and pickleball courts and a central community hub with a children’s play area, restrooms, concessions, storage and a small office.
Trees, landscaping and a bike path will be added along the perimeter of the park, which would be expanded into portions of 16th Street and Colorado Avenue, resulting in the loss of 37 metered street parking spaces.
In the third and final phase of construction, which would take up to 2.5 years, existing buildings that house the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL), the Memorial Park gym, community meeting rooms, staff offices and a small fitness gym will be replaced with a community recreation center that integrates their functions into one facility.
The City Council approved the first two phases of the master plan Tuesday, but said enhanced pedestrian entrances on 14th Street and across from the 17th Street/Santa Monica College Expo Line station would make the redesigned park more inviting to the public.
Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day was the sole council member to vote against phases 1 and 2 of the master plan. He said ahead of the vote that he felt that the plan missed an opportunity to engage the streetscape by locating community amenities in a hub.
“Putting the hub in the center of the block feels to me like a central courtyard, which is something we’ve avoided in all our planning principles across the city ever since we learned that they’re terrible,” O’Day said. “We’re fencing in this park with activities in the center rather than engaging the streetscape.”
O’Day and other councilmembers also said the park should have barbecues and retain its dog run — potentially by taking over the portion of 16th Street adjacent to the park so the barbecues would not feel closed off in the center of the park.
“16th Street is a vacated street provides some flexibility in this plan,” said Councilmember Greg Morena. “There’s an opportunity to use that space. It’s an opportunity we have now that once we start laying fields, we will not have the opportunity to take back.”
City manager Rick Cole said Tuesday that the council should be cautious about adding amenities and features that would increase the cost of the project given the city’s budgetary constraints.
The city’s general fund is projected to fall millions of dollars into the red over the next decade as revenue from brick-and-mortar sales tax and parking erode and the city pays off a $448 million unfunded pension liability.
Construction on the 13-acre park is projected to cost between $100 and $116 million, or about $7.7 million to $8.9 million per acre.
The 6.2-acre Tongva Park, which opened in 2013 after two years of construction, cost $42.3 million, or about $6.8 million per acre. The park came in $7 million under budget.
Cole also said that Memorial Park stakeholders already expressed strong support for the master plan as proposed and may not reach the same consensus on the council’s changes to the project.
“We might have mutually exclusive and/or expensive design choices that we push down the road and we’ll end up having to come back and have another really difficult challenge when we’ve already spent a whole lot of time and money thinking that a brilliant designer is going make all of these problems go away,” Cole said.
City staff will return to the council in January to approve design and pre-construction services for phases 1 and 2 of the master plan.