By Daniel Larios
August 21, 2014 – Proponents of redeveloping Santa Monica’s art center believe it will revitalize an aging complex in time for the arrival of the Expo Light Rail. Opponents counter that it will rob the area of its character and draw too many cars.
The two sides will get a chance to weigh in on the future of the 5.6-acre site during a
special meeting Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium’s East Wing
before the proposals go before the City Council for a final decision next month.
The Center – which includes some 30 galleries, architecture firms and other small art-related businesses – sits across the street from a future stop on the Expo Light Rail line and consists of low-slung buildings on City-owned land in Santa Monica’s industrial corridor.
“I think we’ve heard from all of the developer teams and from the City Council and how important it is to get this right,” said Bill Turner, chair of the Bergamot Station Tenants Association.
“Bergamot has really become sort of like a town square, a public forum where we can all share the multiple cultural assets that Santa Monica has,” he said.
Initially, the proposals were set to go before the City Council at next Tuesday’s meeting for final consideration, but the item was pulled from the agenda.
Instead, the council will discuss the proposals during their September 9 meeting, hoping to continue a project that has taken years to get off the ground.
In May of 2012, the city issued a Request for Qualification (RFQ) for the development of the Center, looking for teams interested and experienced with this type of project.
This past February, development teams from ReThink Development/Kor Group, Bergamot Station Ltd/ Worthe Real Estate Group and 26Street TOD Partners LLC each presented to the council their proposals for the project – all of which contained a hotel and office space as required by the City.
The Council postponed its decision in order to get more community feedback on the project.
A number of slow growth activists and community groups have come out against the project, using public forums to try and block development of the arts hub.
During the first community meeting in May, attendees questioned the inclusion of a hotel in each plan and brought up the parking situation.
“Santa Monica has one of the premier arts centers in Southern California,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Phil Brock, who is running for council candidate, told the Lookout Wednesday..
“It’s successful, it has character, it has style, and it has passionate art gallery and theatre operators,” Brock said. “It’s worth preserving.”
Three weeks after the only community meeting, gallery owner Wayne Blank, who worked with Bergamot Station Ltd/Worth Real Estate, announced he would sever ties with the development team, claiming that his resignation was a way for him to speak out against plans to fundamentally change the character of the arts hub.
“I have become convinced that the City of Santa Monica’s current approach to redevelopment of the site is fatally flawed and that if the city remains on its current path, it will likely result in the death of Bergamot Station as a world-renowned arts center,” Blank said in a statement.
“I would urge the City Council to reject all three of the current development proposals and postpone major redevelopment of the complex at this time.”
In June, the Bergamot Station Gallery Cultural Association, which represents more than three dozen galleries and organizations at the art center, posted an electronic petition entitled “Save Bergamot Station Arts Center from Overdevelopment” on Change.org, urging the City Council to reconsider the proposed development.
“Without immediate action to address at-capacity parking at Bergamot Station, the galleries and tenants will not survive any construction plan or the completion of the Expo Light-Rail stop at Bergamot Station.” the association said in a statement.
As of Wednesday, the petition had more than 11,292 e-signatures.
In their weekly column, Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow (SMa.r.t) called for changes to the proposals, including more parking and prioritizing the arts and culture.
“The City needs to accept this mantle of leadership and rethink their program,” the column reads. “It should be a vision for the future unfettered by the past. It should prioritize the Arts not commerce.
“Bergamot should be an Arts complex focused on entertainment, education and the promotion of the arts in all its forms. Bergamot is a unique opportunity to celebrate Santa Monica’s connection to arts and culture at a prominent gateway to our City. Let’s take a little more time to make sure we get it right.”
For more information on the Bergamot Art Center, contact the City’s Cultural Affairs Division at (310) 458-8350.