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Downtown Santa Monica Plots Future, Fills Needs

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jorge Casuso and Jason Islas

Second of two parts

March 14, 2014 -- Downtown Santa Monica is in the finalizing a plan that will guide its future, while moving to fill the longstanding need for new movie theaters and moderately-priced hotels.

A new Specific Plan that will guide development in the City’s central business district should be approved this year, and future projects could get the green light from a different council after the November elections.

As the plan moves forward, two mid-priced hotels will begin construction in the summer, and the first new movie theaters in more than two decades will be ready to screen films early next year.

DOWNTOWN SPECIFIC PLAN

After undergoing months of intensive State-mandated environmental review, the plan that will govern all future development in Downtown Santa Monica has begun its second round of public input.

In January of this year, planners finished drafting the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Downtown Specific Plan, which governs the heights, densities and uses of future development on every block in the District.

In August, City Council directed staff to study the impacts of developments of 84 feet or less, although taller projects can be approved with Council’s discretion after further study paid for by developers.

The plan has been long in the making, with numerous public meetings and workshops taking place over the past two years. Now that the draft EIR is complete, residents will get the chance to weigh in on the predictions of how future development will affect traffic, light and even air-flow Downtown.

Officials expect the Plan, and residents’ comments, to go before the Planning Commission in early spring. “We’ll revise the plan as needed based on the feedback we get,” said Planning Director David Martin. The final draft would then go to City Council for approval later this year.

NEW HOTELS

City officials hope to fill the need for moderately-priced lodgings Downtown with two new hotels that will spring up directly across the street from the future Expo light rail station at the end of the line.

In November, days after South Carolina-based OTO Development agreed to terms with the local hospitality workers’ union, the City Council approved plans to build two six-story hotels at 5th Street and Colorado Avenue.

“Their plans are to start construction around the middle of this year,” Martin said. The two hotels -- a Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton and a Courtyard by Marriott -- will offer a total of 279 rooms at rates relatively cheaper than most Downtown hotels.

“They offer a mid-range price point, which is something we don’t have a lot of,” Martin said.

Between construction of the new Expo station across the street and plans to overhaul Colorado Boulevard west of 4th Street, work crews will be busy along Downtown Santa Monica’s southern edge.

“We brought everyone together,” Martin said. “A working group comprised of stakeholders will help coordinate the construction.”

THEATERS

Downtown Santa Monica should see a big jump in movie attendance early next year. In November 2013, Macerich, which owns Santa Monica Place, announced it had partnered with ArcLight Cinemas to build the city’s first movie theaters in more than two decades.

The Los Angeles-based theater company -- which would put 14 state-of-the-art screens on the third floor of the remodeled mall -- is known for its luxury movie houses, which offer reserved stadium seating, gourmet food and even full bars.

DTSM President Kathleen Rawson called the new theaters a “welcome addition” to the mix of attractions Downtown. “There’s a huge market here,” she said. “We haven’t had infrastructure improvements in our theaters since the 1980s.”

The number of theater seats Downtown has been dwindling. Last year, the Criterion on Third Street Promenade closed its doors, and the two remaining theaters have been operating for years with outdated technology.

In December, the Council voted to fast-track the project in order for plans to return in April for final approval.

COUNCIL ELECTIONS

Candidates hoping to sit on the City Council will vie for three of the seven seats in November. This year, Santa Monica’s longest-serving Council member, Bob Holbrook, will be up for reelection, as will Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council member Kevin McKeown.

It could prove a pivotal election for major projects proposed for Downtown. In 2015, the Council will decide whether two major Downtown hotel projects move forward as proposed -- a building designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and the replacement of the former Holiday Inn across from the Pier with a three building complex.

In addition, the new council will decide the fate of a proposed development on a 2.5-acre City-owned site, one of the last undeveloped parcels in the heart of Downtown.

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