With ample vacancies and enough chain stores to replicate any mall in America, it’s no secret that the Promenade no longer holds the luster of its past, but Downtown Santa Monica Inc. has a vision for a dramatic revitalization.
Billed as the Third Street Promenade Stabilization and Economic Vitality Plan, DTSM spent six months utilizing input from a diverse range of stakeholders and the strategic insights of MIG planning firm to build this concept.
The plan seeks to modernize and elevate the Promenade as a dining, entertainment, and retail destination with a more diverse range of businesses and experiences that will appeal to both locals and visitors.
There are calls for rooftop bars and restaurants, speakeasy style entertainment in basements, activations of alleyway spaces, a new cultural center and the creation of a car free town square. Locals are to be drawn in through performance venues and the addition of more daily need services, while diverse artisans and small-scale manufactures are to be attracted with an inclusive leasing strategy and affordable kiosk vending spaces.
DTSM has grandiose goals for a space that was once the economic heart of the City and now struggles to attract locals, nightlife, and unique businesses.
The first step towards implementing these goals was presenting the plan to Planning Commission on Aug. 4, who provided feedback prior to DTSM’s upcoming presentation to City Council on Aug. 24.
Council’s approval will be essential as the plan hinges on changes to zoning ordinances and regulatory measures in order to attract and fast track the desired new businesses and developments. The burden of enacting the plan will fall to DTSM, who is funding it with $240,000 from its budget, and the downtown property owners who will have to buy into the vision.
The Planning Commission had plenty of good things to say about the plan, which commissioners noted was exceedingly well researched and offered exciting benefits to local residents. They also had several critiques that targeted some of the plan’s key aspects.
One of these critiques regarded DTSM’s request that permits and approvals be fast tracked for developments on the Promenade, as this process can take several years and the Community Development Department is still facing Covid-related staff cutbacks.
“I have a concern and I see a conflict, which is we have this huge focus on building housing and this prioritization attracts from that,” said Commissioner Jim Ries, who is not in favor of permit prioritization for the Promenade.
This sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Leslie Lambert, who said that the City’s Housing Agenda should be the number one focus for expedited approvals.
Another issue raised by the commissioners was how the plan addresses goals around affordability, equity, and inclusion.
“I really got to see this as a rich person’s playground and I’m not happy with that. We have a lot of tourists who may be staying in a hostel or other affordable accommodations who will need affordable eating facilities and that is totally not addressed in this plan,” said Lambert. “The word affordability is never mentioned. The word low-income is never mentioned.”
Part of Lambert’s critique stems back to the ban on fast food chain restaurants on the Promenade, which some residents see as economically discriminatory.
Christopher Beynon, speaking on behalf of planning firm MIG, responded to Lambert by pointing out the aspects of the plan that are meant to be inclusionary. These includes vendor spaces for small businesses that are prioritized for women and minority owned businesses and bringing local food carts in place of fast food chains.
“The Promenade can and should be for everyone and there is no intent of this plan to make it a playground for the affluent in any way,” said Beynon.
Commissioners did like aspects of the plan that are intended to draw more locals to the Promenade. Under the proposed immediate zoning changes, the Promenade would be able to host more daily use services like child care and early education facilities, medical and dental offices, and general personal services.
Longer-term community centered changes include a proposed town square plaza at 3rd St and Arizona Ave, which could be a place for art shows, block parties, theatre, and live music. DTSM is exploring ways of making this area temporarily or permanently car free. There is also a suggestion to develop a multidisciplinary community art and performance center.
“It (the plan) does represent in some ways a pivot away from the well heeled tourists and more toward the person with very local needs at whatever price point they are, so that’s a big shift for our city,” said Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi. “I think it’s an excellent plan, I’m glad we’re working on it, and I’m glad it’s moving forward.”
DTSM and MIG will reflect on Planning Commissions recommendations and present the plan to City Council on Aug. 24.