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Community Meets with Bergamot Arts Center Developers

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Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

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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 Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

May 8, 2014 – More than 200 Santa Monica residents packed a community meeting hosted by the City Tuesday night to discuss three development plans proposed for the Bergamot Arts Center.

The cluster of low-slung buildings on City owned land in Santa Monica’s industrial corridor -- which include 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.

The meeting gave residents a chance to weigh in on the three proposals before the City Council chooses a developer for the site, likely in late summer.

“We’re poised, moving forward, to take this information, assess it and return to council,” said Jason Harris, the City’s Economic Development Manager, at the start of the meeting.”

Development teams from ReThink Development/Kor Group, Bergamot Station Ltd/ Worthe Real Estate Group and 26Street TOD Partners LLC each made a 15 minute presentation of their plans for the area, each with different concepts and focuses. 

Each plan was given certain parameters, including a hotel, open space, parking and preservation of buildings.

Greg Reitz, Co-founder and Principal of ReThink Development, headed the first presentation, which he described as “uniquely Bergamot and what Bergamot really wants.”

“How does one preserve the fragile ecosystem that already exists here and makes sure that Bergamot Station Arts Center remains a cultural destination for the next 55 years?” said Reitz. “We felt the best way was to focus on the essence of what Bergamot is.”

The ReThink plan would build a “mid-price, lifestyle boutique hotel,” 2.6 acres of “enhanced space” reminiscent of an urban park, no retail and pedestrian and bike friendly areas. 

The proposal contributes 10 percent of the project budget towards the Santa Monica Art Museum, tenant retention programs such as rent abatement and free valet parking and the creation of a Bergamot Club, described as a “private club for tenants to promote cultural programming and low rent.”

The second plan, presented by 26th Street TOD Partners, headed by Scott Ginsburg and recommended by City staff calls for a 5,500-square-foot outdoor amphitheater, a new arts museum in the center of the area and 75,000 square feet for Arts and Culture.

“The goal of our design for the Bergamot Station Arts Center is to create a series of buildings and open spaces that engage and serve the local community and visitors, reinforcing Bergamot Station as an international platform for art and culture,” said Ginsburg.

The final plan, presented by Jeff Worthe, who was representing the Bergamot Station Ltd/ Worthe Real Estate Group development team, focuses on one goal: “Preserve.”

“The architects will use fancier words than we do like preserve the ‘DNA’ and the ‘ecosystem,’ but we’re actually here to preserve the businesses; the existing tenants in this project,” said Worthe. 

“It’s impossible to talk about preserving the buildings if you’re going to modify those buildings so the tenants have to leave.  Our goal is that every single business stays open while this project gets redeveloped.”

The proposal includes constructing buildings without disturbing business and building an offsite parking structure. A hotel would be added in phase two.

Following the presentations, Bill Turner, chair of the Bergamot Station Tenants Association, cited parking as the major concern and noted the importance of preserving the Arts Center.

“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 Turner. “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 also urged the development team that is selected to build at least 1,000 parking spaces.

The last segment included a question and answer segment with the developers and City staff. 

One of the big bones of contention was the inclusion of a hotel in each plan.  Members of the slow-growth organization Residocracy who were attendance began shouting down the idea, yelling “No more hotels” and “Why do we need more hotels?”

Harris replied that the City asked that the teams include small hotels to increase revenue and to keep the area active.

Another bone of contention was the issue of parking.  Each team provided plans for parking, with the caveat that City workers use the parking facilities.

“Might city workers take the train?” an audience member shouted, much to the amusement of the crowd. 

The Bergamot area will soon be one of three Santa Monica stops on the new Expo light rail line, which is currently under construction and is slated to start brining passengers to the beachside city in early 2016. 

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. 

As part of the process, the three teams were selected as finalists to participate in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process during the November 27 City Council meeting. 

The City-owned site is currently occupied by approximately 30 small businesses, including art galleries, a non-profit theater company and a café. 

Other galleries, creative offices and the Santa Monica Museum of Art are located in the privately owned portion adjacent to the city-owned site.

The City has consolidated all information concerning the project on its website, including the proposals from the three development teams at

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