Dog owners of Santa Monica rejoice – a first of its kind dog agility park and shaded picnic area is coming to an underutilized strip of 7th street in Downtown.

The project will be located along the eastern perimeter walls of the Big Blue Bus depot, creating a long linear area for dogs to go off leash. The space will include four fenced dog exercise areas designated for large dogs, small dogs, and in-training/injured dogs as well as a picnic area with trees, tables and chairs.

Tucked away behind the post office and in front of the Big Blue Bus Depot, most residents have never ventured down this stretch of 7th street. But, the fact that it is rarely frequented is the reason why it is now becoming activated.

The idea to convert the space first arose in 2019, when some Big Blue Bus drivers noted feeling uncomfortable in the quiet area at night. Trash tended to accumulate on the sidewalk and it wasn’t the most inviting space for drivers to take their break.

The initial idea was to simply fence in the space and look at adding some cameras. However, neither Big Blue Bus, nor City staff, nor local residents thought this was the best solution, and instead decided to brainstorm new uses for the space.

“We work very closely with other city departments and we’re very aware that the city is always interested in livability and in making things an active and better environment for residents,” said Timothy McCormick, Big Blue Bus planning and performance manager. “The idea that we would put up a fence, almost invites people to throw trash over it.”

Through a series of community meetings, the idea of a dog exercise area rose to the forefront. This meets a need voiced by downtown dog owners and a need often brought up by hotel visitors.

“I’ve gotten comments from residents who are really excited about the project, because they have dogs and they live in an apartment downtown and there isn’t an off leash space north of the freeway,” said Project Manager Linda Cogswell. This will be something that will be open to not just the residents, but also hotel visitors and employees in the area.

Currently all Santa Monica dog parks are limited to resident dog owners, with the exception of the Airport Park where non-residents may apply for a permit tag to use the space. Additionally, none of them feature the type of dog agility equipment that will be installed in the 7th street space.

“I really like the idea of our drivers feeling safe because there’s activity happening and not because there’s cameras and sensors,” said McCormick. “I feel like life gets richer when we watch out for each other, and who doesn’t want to get off on their break to use the restroom and go look at dogs?”

The space will also feature a shared mobility device drop zone, landscaping improvements, and four new street light poles. The Architectural Review Board approved the landscape plans on July 19, and the City is now proceeding with its final design plan, incorporating community input and staff comments.

The goal is to begin construction in early 2022 for an opening in late spring or summer. Space has also been planned for food truck parking and the picnic area has been designed to be movable. This creates a flexible space that could be used to host events such as dog adoption days.