The location used to be a parking structure, but has been vacant while a long gestating housing project slowly moves along Credit: Haibu Media Group

In the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM) board meeting last Thursday, members voted unanimously to move ahead with a 360 degree immersive ‘dome’ entertainment activation on the former site of Parking Structure 3.

The project will consist of two, 360 degree immersive entertainment domes, very much like the new Sphere in Las Vegas, that has been attracting a lot of attention recently. While these will be very similar in nature they will be significantly scaled down, with one dome being 100 ft in diameter and the other being 180 ft. (To compare, the Sphere is nearly three times that size, at 516 ft in diameter.)

The activation will focus around a brand new animated universe aimed at children that centers around an indigenous little girl, named Haibu, gifted with the ability to speak to animals.

“Her story, as defined in our book series, live musical and our upcoming feature film, is universally relatable to a worldwide audience that loves animals. Haibu is quickly becoming the face and voice for global animal conservation,” said Blake Freeman, founder and CEO of Haibu Media Group (HMG).

“That this has such a strong underlying environmental theme was something we deemed very important,” said Jeremy Ferguson, DTSM Operations Director. “We’ll be partnering with Save the Bay and connecting both the Pier and the Promenade together, which again, was something we felt was very important.”

The site will incorporate one dome that’s 100 ft in diameter and the other will be 180 ft in diameter, together with other features
Credit: Haibu Media Group

The demolition of Parking Structure 3, located on 4th Street between Santa Monica Blvd. and Arizona Ave., began in March 2022 following a failed legal effort to stop the project. Since 2018, the City has been working on a plan to demolish the 50-year-old parking garage and replace it with a multi-level affordable housing project, which would include ground floor retail and subterranean parking.

However, since demolition was completed in November of last year, the site has remained empty amid continued concern over the local economy. According to DTSM, the City is expected to break ground in 2025, which is why in the request for proposals it was made clear that the license agreement would be for 18 months.

“One of the goals of DTSM is to activate underutilized public space. We do this in Lot 27 [626 Market and ice rink] at the intersection of Ocean and Colorado [Afters Ice Cream] and are working to program the Rooftop Cinema Club on the top floor of parking structure 6,” said Andrew Thomas, CEO of DTSM.

“The former Parking Structure 3 lot is underutilized space and we see Haibu as an opportunity to activate this space to benefit our stakeholders and all of Downtown,” Thomas said, adding, “The space will become affordable housing in the near future. Our agreement with the City to activate this space is for 18 months and then goes month-to-month in case the housing project is delayed.”

HMG is building an expansive portfolio of kids content using proprietary workflows and the very latest real time technology at their studio in Santa Monica. They’re partnering with Vortex Immersion Media to create the activation that, along with the two domes, will also include a party room, picnic area, merchandise stalls and bathrooms. Vortex Immersion Media itself brings a wealth of experience installing and maintaining these surround vision-style domes across the state of California including the immersive CineTheater in downtown Los Angeles and at events like San Diego Comic-Con.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.