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Council Approves Mall Remodel

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

September 13 -- The City Council Tuesday unanimously approved the newest proposal to remodel Santa Monica Place, giving City staff and owner Macerich the go-ahead to amend existing agreements for the construction, operation and maintenance of a redesigned mall and adjacent parking facilities.

After the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval in June, Macerich officials will now seek the go-ahead from the Arts Commission, Architectural Review Board (ARB) and the California Coastal Commission with an eye to reopening the indoor mall in fall 2009.

The proposal is central to the vitality of Downtown, is well-integrated with the existing urban fabric and increases available open space and pedestrian walkways, Planning Director Eileen Fogarty told the council.

“In terms of urban design, this (new proposal) is such a positive project for the city,” Fogarty said. “The mall, which has been an asset and the city’s living room, can now be integrated into a project that looks outward with improved pedestrian orientation and streetscape.”

Key components of the redesign include removing large portions of the roof and connecting the mall to the Third Street Promenade; demolishing a portion of Parking Structure 7; creating a stronger pedestrian orientation at Second Street, Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue, and creating an open-air dining area on the third floor.

The proposed project will retain the two anchor department store buildings -- one of which has yet to be leased -- and maintain the existing building height of 56 feet, while reducing leasable square footage by 10,234 square feet, according to the proposal.

Macerich has agreed to make improve the streetscape on Colorado Avenue and the sidewalk paving on Second and Fourth Streets and upgrade the elevators and staircases in the two City-owned parking structures attached to the mall.

Macerich officials have conducted a comprehensive public input and outreach campaign since the City Council two-and-a-half years ago rejected plans for a major redevelopment of the struggling 27-year-old mall that included three 21-story condo towers.

“Santa Monica Place really is different from our other projects nationwide, and it is our number one priority to get it right,” said Robert Aptaker, Macerich vice president of development.

“Everything we are doing is within the existing footprint,” he said. “It is an adaptive reuse, not an expansion.”

As proposed, the project does not alter traffic and circulation in the downtown area, because a reduction in square footage factors in as not intensifying travel to and from the mall, according to City staff’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) findings.

However, Council member Kevin McKeown and a representative from the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) foresee more traffic, because the main goal of redesigning the mall is to increase the number of shoppers and visitors.

“A key question has been asked at every single community meeting held by Macerich on new plans for Santa Monica Place,” said Diana Gordon, an SMCLC advisory board member. “How is the City going to understand and calibrate the new traffic impacts from a successful revamp of the mall?

“Council members didn’t get an answer (from staff) when the question was asked earlier in the evening, and they are not going to with the traffic studies in the staff report,” Gordon said. “The community has no confidence in the current traffic studies.”

Although McKeown is worried the redesigned mall will bring more traffic to the Downtown area, he believes Macerich’s proposal could alleviate difficult turns for drivers at Broadway and Colorado Avenue.

He also believes it will make it safer for pedestrians at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue, which is a “very busy and dangerous intersection for pedestrians.”

McKeown also believes the project could capitalize on a proposal to bring light rail to Downtown Santa Monica that is currently being discussed by City and Los Angeles County officials.

The stalled project received a major boost this month when the California Transportation Commission greenlighted $315 million to help bring the rail line being built to Culver City to Santa Monica. (see story)

The remodel of the mall -- which was designed by world-renowned Santa Monica architect Frank Gehry -- is enthusiastically supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown officials.

“The board feels that the success of Santa Monica Place is essential for the Bayside District,” said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District Corporation, which runs the Downtown.

“It is our hope that Macerich will be able to obtain all required approvals necessary without delay, and that development will proceed as quickly as possible,” Rawson said.

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“The mall, which has been an asset and the city’s living room, can now be integrated into a project that looks outward with improved pedestrian orientation and streetscape.” Eileen Fogarty


“Everything we are doing is within the existing footprint. It is an adaptive reuse, not an expansion.” Robert Aptaker


“The community has no confidence in the current traffic studies.” Diana Gordon


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