Park: The proposed revisions to the park come at a cost of $20 million. Courtesy image

Santa Monica City Council had high hopes for the expansion and redevelopment of Memorial Park when plans were approved in October 2019. Then came the pandemic.

Drastic budgetary restrictions due to COVID-19 derailed the nine-figure project (estimated at $100 million – $116 million, plus up to $3 million to relocate city equipment and offices) that would see the 70-year-old public park expand from 10.3 to 13.2 acres, with the addition of sports fields and other amenities.

But this week, council will once again take up the project, split now into bite-size phases that will help keep the budget on track.

Currently, Memorial Park takes up almost 80% of the grid bound by Colorado Avenue to the north, 16th Street to the east, Olympic Boulevard to the south, and 14th Street to the west. The project would integrate the final 20% of the area — 2.9 acres along Colorado Avenue — into the park.

Plans for the park’s expansion go back to 1997. By 2005, the City had purchased a lumberyard that previously occupied that final 2.9-acre parcel and began using the property for staff offices and equipment storage, but it took more than a decade before plans began taking shape for how to integrate that land into the park.

When city council meets on Tuesday, Sept. 27, it will discuss embarking on a reduced first phase of the Memorial Park redevelopment, which comes with a price tag of $20 million — funds that have already been secured through a previous SMC bond. 

This plan is a downsized version of a $30 million phase one project voted on in 2019. New plans involve the demolition of 16 pickleball and four tennis courts, one softball field, one baseball field, a parking lot, a children’s playground and a dog park, but leave two original softball fields, restrooms and a concession stand in place. Further, new plans would include construction of a surface parking lot with 16 rooftop pickleball courts and four tennis courts, two combination fields and a dog park. Originally, the first phase plans also included a community hub with restrooms and concessions and a children’s playground, which do not appear in the downsized phase one plans. 

The first phase is anticipated to be complete by 2026.

At the Tuesday meeting, city council is also set to consider a lease extension for Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier, ensuring the park would continue operations through at least 2050. The amusement park, which opened in 1996, features 12 rides including the iconic Pacific Wheel, as well as games, retail and food. 

The amusement park’s lease would come with two 10-year extension options through 2070.

If approved, this would be the first extension of the initial lease, which expires in 2026 with two 10-year options remaining. 

“Percentage rent will continue at ten percent (10%) of gross receipts in excess of $11,000,000 per calendar year. Base Rent (the minimum rent due under a lease) and Common Area Maintenance (CAM) Charges will continue to be adjusted annually by increases in the Consumer Price Index,” according to the staff report detailing the proposed updated lease. “Certain provisions in the Current Lease will be amended to eliminate exclusions from the definition of Tenant’s Gross Receipts. These modifications will result in the increase in the Tenant’s Gross Receipts for the purpose of calculating the amount of Percentage Rent due to the City and represents an effective rent increase.”

According to city staff, Pacific Park’s rent is “among the highest in the industry.”

The amusement park will also be asked to make repairs once its income is corrected to pre-pandemic levels. Pacific Park, as part of its lease terms, will pledge to spend $10 million in capital improvements/repairs within a five-year period after annual revenue returns to pre-COVID levels.

“The Park’s total capital improvement commitment would be a minimum of $55 million in today’s dollars, comprised of $14 million for long term maintenance of the decking and substructure, and a minimum of $40 million on future capital improvements,” according to a staff report prepared for the Tuesday meeting. “Actual capital requirements will be indexed to keep up with construction costs.”

The proposed new lease terms would also include “elimination of a requirement on the City to maintain $8 million cash on hand reserve in the event of a Casualty.”

A chart attached to the press release also shows the revised lease would result in annual revenues to the city continuing to grow each year, up from about $3 million in the first year of the lease to $13 million in year 23.

There is also an item going before council to approve the establishment of a pedestrian mall on a very limited portion of downtown — a section of First Court between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue. The pedestrian promenade is integral to the recently approved Ocean Avenue Project, the redevelopment of Ocean Avenue between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue designed by architect Frank Gehry set to include a hotel, residential units, shops, restaurants, a museum, a public rooftop deck and a pedestrian “paseo” — up for approval on Tuesday.