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Council Rejects City Staff’s Recommendation for Bergamot Arts Center Developer

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014

Frank Gruber for Santa Monica City CouncilHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 11, 2014 -- Following approximately four hours of public testimony and an additional hour of discussion on the dais, the City Council selected a team led by the Worthe Real Estate Group for the nearly $100 million redevelopment of the Bergamot Station Arts Center on Santa Monica’s east end.

City staff and a divided Arts Commission had recommended 26th Street TOD Partners for the project. There was also a third applicant. Among the reasons a majority of the council preferred Worthe was unlike 26th Street, it had already made a labor agreement with the workers.

“[The labor agreement] is very important,” said Councilmember Ted Winterer, who added that Worthe’s proposal includes the most square footage dedicated to preserving art galleries and the team had a proven history with adaptive reuse as well as an architect who had experience with the property.

Among the features of Worthe’s proposal is 61,000 square feet of gallery space, a 21,000-square-foot redesign of the Santa Monica Museum of Art, 80,000-square-foot hotel, 44,000 square feet of creative office space, 5,000 square feet of restaurants and bars as well as 2,000 square feet of retail.

But the final product could look much different, as council members stressed they were selecting a developer and not a project. This came after they heard from nearly 100 public speakers with a range of opinions, including not doing any project at all. Many people were concerned about parking and that the project may force gallerists off the property.

“I think we have to build consensus before we have to build,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who was the only person on the dais up for re-election in attendance.

Mayor Pam O’Connor was elsewhere speaking to the Los Angeles County Democratic Club to receive its endorsement, which also went to McKeown and Sue Himmelrich.  

Worthe will cooperate with a so-called working group made up of gallerists and other stakeholders affected by the project to determine a final plan. There would also be public outreach. The final plan would need to be approved by the council and other government panels.

A specific timeline was not established, but City staff has said the first shovel is not expected to hit the ground prior to 2017.

The Bergamot Arts Center sits on approximately seven acres of land, of which approximately five acres is owned by the City. Bergamot Station Ltd. rents the property for $528,000 per year and subleases it to gallerists and various other tenants.

The money generated from the lease, which will expire at the end of 2017, supports the Big Blue Bus. City staff says significantly more money will be earned after the arts center is redeveloped.

Across from the arts center is a station for the Expo Light Rail, which is expected to begin moving through Santa Monica in 2016.

Bob Holbrook was the lone member of the dais to vote against the selection of Worthe.

A major reason, Holbrook said, for his opposition to Worthe is because 26th Street team member Lionsgate owns an adjacent property and is in the process of buying another one. He said 26th Street could stretch the development onto the adjacent property, while Worthe couldn’t.

“It’s conceivable that the only property that can be developed, unless Worthe can buy all the properties from these people, is the City land,” Holbrook said. “And I think the project is going to be pretty crummy if that’s all there is to it.”

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