SANTA MONICA PLACE has finalized plans to convert the spaces left vacant by Bloomingdale’s and Arclight Cinemas into Santa Monica Workplace, a future office campus. As you can imagine, there is a great deal of online chatter opposing this new configuration. This is not only frustrating, but is a blow to the City of Santa Monica and its future impact on the local economic, retail and entertainment industries. Unfortunately Macerich, the leasing agent for the Mall, is only interested in leasing the space as soon as possible and not taking into account what are our City’s needs are for locals and visitors alike. Listed here are a number of points why this conversion should not occur:
Santa Monica Place should take into account destination-type tenants. These will draw people near and far to the Mall. These massive spaces can be subdivided and leased to such tenants as restaurants (but not chain-type eateries similar to The Cheesecake Factory). The restaurants should be ones that draw locals and tourists, such as Max Brenner, Black Tap, Ellen’s Stardust Diner, Beauty & Essex, Tao, Alice’s Tea Cup, Big Daddy Diner, Kellogg’s NYC, and Blue Ribbon Sushi. How about old-fashioned ice cream parlors such as Serendipity, Swensons, Ghiradelli Fountain, and Farrells?
Lease out spaces to tenants such as a toy store with play areas, fun mom-and-pop shops, Petals N Wax, Grow Venice, a bookstore with a child’s reading section, or even Bright Child (an indoor playground for kids of all ages that used to be located on 4th Street). Think about this: children would play at The Cayton Children’s Museum or another similar adventure location in the Mall, and afterwards, as they will be hungry, take them to a fun restaurant. The longer a visitor stays in the Mall, the more apt they are to spend money. The more popular and profitable the tenants, the greater attraction for a future leasee. Additional destination suggestions are virtual reality venues (move The Void from the Promenade into the Mall or there is Dreamspace), indoor miniature golf such as The Putting Edge, an escape room, laser tag, mini bumper cars, or offshoots from Two Bit Circus, Funko Hollywood, or Rage Room.
If a movie theatre is still an option, how about Alamo Drafthouse or Cinépolis. Maybe go the route of Food Truck Nights similar to those at First Fridays on Abbot Kinney and Tuesday nights at the Victorian. Add TikTok worthy events or maybe makeup/fashion pop-ups, such as those from the Kardashians/Jenners. Perhaps outdoor movie nights, with all-inclusive parking, popcorn, a drink, and candy while you lounge in comfy chairs or bean bags. Bars can be located outdoors within the mall, or adult-only tenants can include venues from the Promenade’s old days such as Chillers and Gotham Hall, or even a speakeasy. There are endless possibilities.
Bring back free 3-hour free parking. Advertise exclusive activities or restaurant perks just for Santa Monica locals. Ideas such as happy hours and bottomless mimosa brunches. Set up outdoor dining throughout the mall with popular music palpable to all demographics. Rotate live bands to play aloud. Pipe in popular music to garner up a little excitement.
Reduce the rent to lure new tenants and, if needed, slowly raise it as the economy improves (we are still in a pandemic so give businesses a financial break in the beginning as this could incentivize future tenants to lease spaces at the Mall). Board up the current vacancies with decorative wood planks so it doesn’t feel like you’re walking in a ghost town. Put together co-op deals between tenants so they can draw business to each other (such as see a movie and then enjoy 2-for-1 drinks at the upcoming Loulou Restaurant with a minimum food purchase). And publicize it everywhere! Let Los Angeles and beyond know that Santa Monica is the “it” place to shop, play, and dine. Bring locals to the Mall and show them how easy the parking is to navigate and to not be afraid of venturing to Downtown Santa Monica.
Locals have stayed away and we need to bring them back. Cater to the locals and tourists will follow. Check out L.A. malls and see how they successfully draw in shoppers. Feature inviting aesthetics, greenery, comfortable furniture, and offer concierge amenities to visitors, as well as offering residents local-only perks. Tie-in nearby hotels to offer discounts to the Mall’s stores. Show an increased security presence to ensure customers feel safe, day and night, not only in the Mall but the adjoining parking lots. Clean up the homeless problem at the Mall and around the Promenade be a huge asset (but the logistics are for another discussion).
Santa Monica Place is salvageable and though it is easier said than done, please don’t lease space to business offices. Don’t let Santa Monica Place turn into what was once Westside Pavilion. Establishing office space in these two massive vacancies will deter future shoppers, as well as possible tenants. We need Santa Monica Place to bounce back stronger than ever, sooner rather than later.
Submitted by Kimberly Jaffe