Unbeknownst to the casual merry-go-round rider or hot dog on a stick holder, the Pier is undergoing a restructuring of operations and management as it grapples with dramatically reduced funding.

The City’s grant to the Pier Corporation has gone from $746,402 in FY 2019/20 to just $200,000 for FY 2021/22. The City initially cut the Pier’s grant during last summer’s pandemic budget restructuring and further reduced it by $50,000 this fiscal year.

Prior to the pandemic the Pier Corporation had eight full time, one part time and 20 to 30 as needed employees. There are now four full time and one part-time employee, leaving the organization running what Interim Executive Director Jim Harris calls a “pretty bare bones” operation.

There is good news and bad news accompanying the Pier’s budget cuts.

The bad news is that there is $0 allocated for programming this fiscal year. That means that next summer’s Twilight Concert is looking uncertain and any other events will be smaller in scale as they will depend on sponsorships or community funding. There are ongoing efforts to bring back ROGA (an athletic yoga program) and the holiday window displays this fall and winter.

The good news is that Harris believes the turmoil of Covid and subsequent budget cuts exposed longstanding problems on the pier, which for years had been swept under the sand. These problems, he says, are well on their way to getting fixed.

A lot of those issues stem from the Pier’s confusing governance structure.

Currently the City manages public safety and day-to-day operations of the Pier. The non-profit Pier Corporation manages events, advertising, filming on the pier, and the street performer lottery. Lastly, a coalition of business owners organize their affairs through the Santa Monica Pier Lessees Association.

When it came to important decisions like safely reopening the Pier and monitoring social distancing, these organizations often had differing points of view.

“There’s no one responsible point organization to go to if you have an issue at the Pier,” said Harris. “We want our collective group of people to really feel as though there is one leadership group providing direction for the Pier and addressing the needs of the Pier.”

The group of Pier stakeholders are now working together to analyze the governance structure of a variety of local piers and tourist destinations. Harris said they are considering moving to a type of Business Improvement District model, where the Pier businesses provide a portion of the funding and have a greater say in the Pier’s operations.

“We’re really working collectively: the City, Pier merchants, and the Pier Corporation,” said Harris. “We have all three bodies working together at a level that we have not had in the past and working towards something will all be doing in the future, which ultimately makes for a much better Santa Monica.”

In the long-term the Pier is working towards a model that is less reliant or completely independent from funding from the City.

The Twilight Concert series has for several years been using a sponsorship model and transitioning away from City funding. This is something that the Pier seeks to continue as it hopefully revamps the program in some format going forward.

“It was a goal to not rely on City funding at all for Twilight and that would still be the goal going forward,” said Harris. “Whether it’s going to be 2022 or 2023 I’m not sure yet, but it’s certainly something that we will be tackling very soon.”

As part of the restructuring process the Pier has created three study groups focusing on Community Engagement, Programming Priorities and Governance & Revenue.

“In my 32 years here — working originally for one of the lessees, and now for the Pier Corporation — I will say the work of these study groups is currently trending toward the best thing I have ever seen happen at the Pier,” said Harris.

Clara@smdp.com