DTSM: The organization is responsible for the Promenade and nearby streets. Courtesy photo

There is a leadership vacuum swirling around Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., as Interim Executive Director, Mackenzie Carter left the organization on April 15 on the heels of former CEO Kathleen Rawson’s January 21 departure. 

Both employees had long tenures at the organization, with Rawson serving 25 years and Carter nearly 14. The DTSM Board of Directors has voted to hire John Harris, an LA-based attorney, as Interim Executive Director while an executive search firm recruits a new CEO. In the meantime, Board Chair Barry Snell is the acting Chief Executive Officer.

DTSM is a private 501c(3) non-profit organization that receives funding from the City of Santa Monica and Downtown property owners to manage, promote, and maintain the Downtown business district. 

The organization is credited with the transformation of the Promenade into an international tourism and shopping destination in the 90s. 

In recent years the popularity and foot traffic levels on the Promenade have waned as retail trends shifted, unique stores became replaced by generic chains and the pandemic led to a sharp uptick in vacancies. Downtown Santa Monica, like the rest of the city and greater Los Angeles, has seen an increase in homelessness and has also experienced issues around property crime. A group of property owners, organizing as the Santa Monica Bayside Owners Association, have made their dissatisfaction with DTSM’s leadership clear. 

Now that leadership is in a state of flux.

Harris currently has a three month contract to serve as Interim Executive Director with the option to extend on a month-to-month basis. The organization’s Board has a goal to hire a permanent CEO by the start of the next fiscal year, which is July 1.

“The Board is intent on hiring a seasoned CEO with at least 10 years of relevant executive level experience who is familiar with the duties and responsibilities of urban placemaking organizations, and/or business improvement districts,” said Board Chair Barry Snell. “They must have a clear vision for the organization, be receptive to feedback from various stakeholders, and work collaboratively with DTSM partners, including the City of Santa Monica, local businesses and property owners.”

According to Snell, the role of CEO will remain similar to years past, but have a larger emphasis on economic development and retail recruitment. Other key qualifications include expertise in the travel, hospitality and tourism industries as well as a demonstrated ability in financial forecasting, budgeting and resource allocation. 

A key responsibility of the new CEO will be executing the Third Street Promenade Stabilization and Revitalization Plan. This plan was crafted by DTSM and MIG Consultants in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders. It 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.

Clara@smdp.com

Twitter: @_ClaraHarter