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Santa Monica Council to Take Next Step in Bergamot Arts Center Development


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By Jorge Casuso

June 8, 2017 -- A Santa Monica arts enclave on City owned land could be the future home of a seven-story hotel under a conceptual plan to preserve the cultural site that will go before the City Council Tuesday.

The 120-room hotel is the cornerstone of a revised plan by the Worthe Group, which was selected as the City's development partner for the Bergamot Station Arts Center project near a new Expo light rail stop ("Council Rejects City Staff’s Recommendation for Bergamot Arts Center Developer," September 11, 2014).

The plan -- which preserves four of the five existing buildings and adds six new structures -- would help subsidize the existing cultural hub, which currently houses some 27 galleries, designers, a nonprofit theater company and a café.

On Tuesday the council also will consider whether to extend the exclusive negotiating agreement with Worthe, as well enter into a master ground lease with the developer starting January 1. Both contracts would be for three years with two, one-year options.

The developer says the hotel is a necessary component to make the $95 million project pencil out and that it would energize the arts center on the five-acre site in the City's old industrial sector.

Whether the council chooses to pursue a hotel concept or not (a decision it will not make on Tuesday), City officials say their goal is to preserve the existing Arts Center.

"The Arts Center has "absolutely been a huge success," said Jason Harris, the City's Economic Development Manager. "This is an attempt to preserve that."

The proposed hotel -- which is being studied with both 100 rooms and 120 rooms -- is viewed as a way to help subsidize both the City's cultural scene, which has been decimated by skyrocketing real estate values, and its struggling Big Blue Bus (BBB).

City officials note that the land was purchased by the City in 1989 using transit funds and that the arts center, while it needs to be retained, was initially considered as a transitional phase to a future transit use.

A new 120-room hotel could generate $2.2 million a year -- mostly in bed taxes -- to help fund the bus system, which has been losing ridership, according to City staff. Without the hotel, the refurbished site would generate $640,000in taxes a year.

Both hotel concepts evaluated include 2,000 square feet of restaurant space and 3,000 square feet of gallery or event space, resulting in a modest increase in both uses on the site.

The hotel proposal has its opponents, including the 11-member Bergamot Station Advisory Committee convened to help refine the conceptual plan, which voted 6-5 to oppose a hotel on the site.

Opponents on the panel -- the four gallery representatives and two of the four residents -- worry that construction will have severe impacts on existing Arts Center businesses and operations and that the proposed hotel is too tall and does not fit in.

In addition to including a hotel, Worthe's revised plan reduces creative office space from 44,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet. It also doubles the community space from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet and reduces the size of the bike center from 4,600 to 600 square feet.

In its report to the Council, staff is recommending redeveloping the site, which they say would provide a safe haven for the arts.

"While some advocate for no changes to the current status quo, the opening of Expo, the sale of the adjacent, privately owned portion of Bergamot Station Arts Center, ongoing changes in the fine-art business, and the closing of the Santa Monica Museum of Art all point to the need to plan for the future vitality of Bergamot Station," staff wrote in its report.


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