The future of the Third Street Promenade and an ongoing Stabilization and Economic Vitality Plan were the center of discussion during this week’s City Council meeting.

In November 2019, Council adopted a study and planning effort known as Promenade 3.0 that sought to reimagine the Promenade for the 21st century; however, COVID-19 has since taken a firm grasp on tourism and retail sectors across Southern California, which has heavily affected economies like Santa Monica.

As a result, Downtown Santa Monica Inc., an organization responsible for managing events, programs and other activities in the shopping area, commissioned a Third Street Promenade Stabilization and Economic Vitality Plan, which staff believes will be a key part of the City’s economic recovery strategy as local leaders look to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Promenade’s 40% vacancy rate, which largely pre-dates the pandemic.

This week’s public conversation provided an early opportunity for staff to gather Council and community input on the plan, and participants of this week’s study session had a lot to say.

“Clearly, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this because I’m really excited about it,” Councilmember Christine Parra said earlier this week when she discussed a need for local youth to offer input. “So, without telling my son that I was reviewing the Promenade, I asked my middle-school (aged) son… ‘If you had an opportunity to change anything on the Promenade, what would you do?’ And the first thing out of his mouth was more seating. ‘I want more seating so that I can hang out and chill out,’ so that’s when I proceeded to talk to him about the experiment where they had the colorful chairs and the rolling chairs and the games; and he loved it. He thought that was still there but I told him no… He goes, ‘Oh.. we have to bring all that back.’”

Mayor Pro Tempore Kristin McCowan said she agreed with Parra on the importance of youth since teenagers also come to spend the money they were given from their parents or earned working jobs.

“Everything we do here is really about what it’s going to mean for the future,” McCowan said, detailing how it’s also important to ensure Santa Monica stays unique. “It needs to be really diverse. I think that a lot of the spirit and stuff has been lost to sort of just commercialized phases… but maybe there are ways that we can incentivize these property owners to want to do something different with their spaces so that we do offer a more colorful vibe downtown.”

Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre and Brock both recalled times in their lives when residents would head to the Promenade to shop, eat, bank or even enjoy a Spanish-language theater.

“The Gap, which used to be a hardware and feed store, could house, right now, three or four small retailers and add local diverse artisans to it as well. So, we can reimagine some of those big spaces as Downtown Santa Monica Inc. wants,” Brock said, while he praised shopping areas like Santana Row in San Jose and called on residents to be part of the solution.

“And not just the ones on the DTSM board — many who have been there for years and I respect them — but they’re not the people that we really need to talk to. It needs to be the residents in all neighborhoods,” he said. “We need to make downtown a place that residents come to shop, to play, to walk, eat and always feel safe and secure.”

No action was taken during Tuesday’s City Council meeting since the item was only listed on the agenda as a study session, but DTSM has selected architectural company MIG to advance the next phase of the project, which includes resident and stakeholder engagement.

DTSM Inc., and City staff are expected to return to Councilmembers to present a more finalized version of the plan along with community feedback before it receives direction on policy development and implementation.

“I’m really excited about everything that I’ve heard tonight and what I’ve read,” Parra said, “and I’m really excited about being a part of this.”