Santa Monica Lookout
Tech Startup Puts Future of Santa Monica Place in Residents' Hands
By Jason Islas
August 27, 2013 -- Santa Monica Place representatives want to know which stores should fill the few vacancies left in the award-winning mall and they are turning to the Internet to help them out.
Santa Monica Place-owner Macerich has partnered up with Popularise, a two-year old tech startup hoping to revolutionize the way real estate developers engage stakeholders in the communities where they do business.
As its first project in the L.A. area, Popularise will poll residents about which stores they want to see in the bayside city's high-end shopping center.
“Basically, our focus in the retail business is all about what's fresh and new,” said Julia Ladd, Macerich's assistant vice president of property management. “We're always looking for ways to be in step with the what the community's looking for.”
That's where Macerich's Popularise website, which went live about three weeks ago, comes into play.
“A modern, open-air shopping destination that features Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom and a contemporary mix of stores and visionary restaurants; Santa Monica Place is your connection to the heart of the city,” the site reads.
“But we want to know, what do you WANT to discover? Give us your input so we can make Santa Monica Place even better,” it reads.
Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can log on, create a profile and suggest a particular store or general service for Santa Monica Place.
“We have a few spaces left and we are really trying to fine-tune our tenant offerings,” Ladd said.
Suggestions so far run the gamut from bars to nail salons to bike shops to juiceries.
The site also features a “Build it!” button, which allows visitors to second suggestions already made by other users.
The top-ranking suggestion -- made by Recreation and Parks Commissioner Phil Brock -- is a City Target, which has been seconded six times since he suggested it Sunday.
While it may be a popular idea to have a Target in the Santa Monica Place, Ladd said it's not likely going to happen in the immediate future.
“There are so many considerations when it's a large type of use,” she said. “With those types of large anchors, it's a whole different set of rules.”
Another popular suggestion is Trader Joe's, which has been seconded twice since Saturday.
Brandon Jenkins, one of Popularise's co-founders, said that the the idea behind the company is to change the way cities are developed.
“In the real estate world, you have a lot of business to business communication,” he said. “There's very little direct customer engagement. But the customer is really what you are focused on.”
While Santa Monica Place is Popularise's first project in the Los Angeles area, the company has had successes around the country, including in Baltimore, Seattle and Fort Worth, Jenkins said.
Most recently, LandCorp, a developer in Western Australia, is using the site for a 44,000 square meter mixed use housing, commercial and open space development.
Macerich, on the other hand, has a more modest plan for its partnership with Popularise.
“We find it to be a very honest and accurate way to get feed back,” Ladd said, adding that she and her team are looking to fill a handful of spaces still vacant at the mall which reopened three years ago this month after a major renovation.
In 2008, Macerich began tearing down the old Santa Monica Place building, a 30-year-old structure designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Since the project was completed in 2010, the new mall has garnered much attention and several awards. Most recently, the new Santa Monica Place received the 2013 Best-of-the-Best VIVA Global Design and Development Award.
Popularise, Macerich officials hope, will help Santa Monica Place continue along its successful path.
One thing about Popularise is that it can be used for a wide-range of projects, Jenkins said.
Though it hasn't happened yet, Popularise could even be used to help local governments get community input on projects planned for public property, he said.
It would allow local governments to reach a wider range of residents than just holding public meetings could.
“People who show up to those meetings tend not to be the majority,” he said. “If you can go online and reach thousands of people instead of twenty,” it would help the public process.
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