Santa Monica City Council members said Tuesday they support a plan to overhaul the physical design of the Third Street Promenade and allow more nightlife and entertainment.
The shopping district began its life in 1964 as a pedestrian mall and reopened in 1989 as the Third Street Promenade following a two-year, $10 million renovation that succeeded in making it one of Southern California’s top retail centers. But with online shopping, food delivery apps and streaming services challenging the Promenade’s core business model, officials say now is the time for a new strategy.
“In today’s world, the challenge is to tap into the timeless realities of urban design and urban living and to be reactive to and adaptive to changes in contemporary taste,” said city manager Rick Cole.
That new strategy, Promenade 3.0, has been in the works for more than a year. Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. has experimented with the design of the Promenade by installing colorful, movable seating, play structures, lawn games and public art. The city of Santa Monica’s planners have proposed tweaks to the street’s zoning that would invite bars, live entertainment venues and smaller businesses to set up shop.
DTSM and the city are betting that Promenade 3.0 will help the street survive the so-called “retail apocalypse” that has shuttered stores around the country, including on the Promenade. While the street’s total taxable sales rose by 4.2% last year, they dropped by 8.2% between 2015 and 2017 as many stores closed due to competition from online retailers.
“Not only has retail changed dramatically, but consumers’ tastes have really shifted,” said DTSM CEO Kathleen Rawson. “The lack of public space management has really started to severely impact the street and our visitors’ experience. The large footprint buildings are hard to adapt to changing commercial trends and zoning limitations may be hampering our innovation and creative options.”
Tuesday was the first time the city council has reviewed Promenade 3.0, which calls for a two-year redesign of the street that could cost between $45 and $60 million and would be funded by Promenade property owners and the city. Construction would not be able to begin until 2023 or 2024 and would take one to two years, said Alan Loomis, an urban designer with the city.
The redesign would add seating areas, event plazas, concession stands, stages and a dedicated zone for the Santa Monica Farmers Market, as well as aesthetic elements such as water features, landscaping and art installations. The street would also be leveled and repaved.
The council said Promenade 3.0 would adapt the shopping district to changing consumer tastes by offering a wider variety of experiences — from play structures for families to use in the morning to bars that singles can visit after 11 p.m.
“We’re going to have to spend money to make money,” said Councilmember Greg Morena. “We all agree that the Promenade is one of our economic engines in the city and to have it produce results, we’ll need to put something in the tank.”
Councilmembers said they wanted to alter city code to let new businesses open in small spaces that face the Promenade’s alleys rather than having to lease expensive spaces that open onto the street itself. Those more affordable spaces could host businesses like music venues, bookstores and art galleries, councilmembers said.
The council also said the Promenade’s historic storefronts should be preserved and that some of the street’s most beloved features — such as its dinosaur sculptures — could be moved to other parts of the street rather than removed to make way for new amenities.
“Not only do we want to create an environment that gets people to come to the Promenade not just once but on repeated occasions … what’s important is that maintaining its authenticity will also make it more appealing to people,” said Mayor Gleam Davis.