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Coastal Commission Gives Miramar Redevelopment Enthusiastic Approval

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By Jorge Casuso

March 11, 2022 -- It's been a century since the iconic Miramar Hotal was built on the site that was home to Santa Monica's co-founder, and a dozen years since plans were floated to rebuild it.

On Thursday, the California Coastal Commission enthusiastically paved the way for the rebirth of the oceanfront hotel on Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard that has hosted U.S. presidents, as well as locals who have spent their wedding night there.

Miramar Hotel redevelopment rendering
Caption: Rendering of new Miramar Hotel design by Pelli Clarke Pelli (Courtesy MSD Capital)

Over the past hundred years, the hotel that once featured "piped-in sea water" has seen "updates and changes and ad hoc additions" that have made it a "disjointed sprawl" badly in need of a rebuild, Miramar officials told the Commission.

The plan approved by a unanimous 11 to 0 vote brings the pieces together with a curved 130-foot-tall structure that embraces the storied Moreton fig tree planted in U.S. Senator John Percival Jones' family yard 150 years ago.

And it will tear down the walls and fences around the 4.5-acre site, creating 14,000 square feet of public space.

"The existing Miramar is in desperate need of a major reinvestment to resolve the existing deficiencies," said Dustin Peterson, vice-president of The Athens Group, which is leading the development project.

"Our goal is to build on the rich history of the site a new vision that ensures the Miramar is a community asset for the next one hundred years."

Peterson said the fourth version of the project, which has undergone radical changes since it was publicly unveiled in 2010, is unique, both in its scope and the extent of the public process.

"I would submit that this project is unlike any that has come before the City or the Coastal approval process," Peterson said.

Commission Chair Donne Brownsey agreed. "This has been a really long hard road," Brownsey said.

"I think the project is a terrific project, and I hope it will be replicated a lot by future developers of big projects, especially hotel projects."

The 502,157-square-foot Miramar redevelopment features 312 rooms that are twice the size of the exiting 300 rooms and restores the 100-room seven-story historic Palisades building.

It also adds 60 luxury condominiums on the top floor and a 42-unit affordable apartment building across Second Street.

Coastal Commission members called it a model project that creates low-income units during a statewide housing crises, reduces water usage by 20 percent and takes traffic off of neighboring streets.

"I'm incredibly excited to be here and approve this model project," said Commissioner Linda Escalante. "I do think that this is proof that yes we can.

"We can intentionally increase good quality affordable housing in the Coastal Zone and be inclusive of community input and be welcoming of public access and provide good union jobs and economic development," she said.

"And all of this while building with climate change and the impacts on our environment top of mind."

Like some of the dozens of speakers who testified in favor of the project during the nearly three hour zoom meeting -- including former mayors, hotel housekeepers, small business owners and neighbors -- Escalante said she is personally looking forward to visiting the new Miramar.

"One of the things that I look forward to most is walking by that open walkway and to sit under the fig tree to have some coffee with my work friends," said Escalante, who for more than 25 years has been commuting from the San Fernando Valley to an office two blocks away.

Commissioner Mike Wilson said that in a world where barriers are constantly being erected, the Miramar is a prime example of "the opening of the public space and taking down the wall.

"Every chink we can pull out, every piece we can remove is a move in the right direction," Wilson said.

In addition to creating 3,060 high-paying union construction jobs and keeping the door open for more than a hundred hotel workers, the Miramar redevelopment is expected to be a boon for Santa Monica's economy for years to come.

Over the next 25 years, the Miramar is expected to pump $444 million into the City's general fund, said a representative for Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who was mayor when the project got the go-ahead 12 years ago.

It also will give an $18 billion boost to the local economy and provide $96 million in property taxes that benefit the local School and College districts.

The Coastal Commission, said its Deputy Director, Steve Hudson, had initially pushed to have the redeveloped hotel set aside some"low-cost overnight accommodations," an idea an economic study found unfeasible.

Instead the Miramar will pay a $6.74 million in-lieu fee that could help build a public campground in Malibu that would host inner city kids or a hotel in Topanga State Park that would provide affordable lodgings.

Former Heal the Bay executive director Mark Gold, a Santa Monica resident, praised the Miramar's persistence, which paid off with the fourth and final design.

"I hated" the original proposal, while the others "were completely out of character with Santa Monica," said Gold, who spent his wedding night at the Miramar.

"This should serve as a model," Gold said. "There's a lot of really great stuff here."

While the Miramar project has been granted final approval, the public process isn't done. The Miramar development must still go before the City's Architectural Review Board (ARB) to address design issues, and the Landmarks Commission must look at the historic features.

Construction drawings must still be prepared, submitted and approved, and if all goes according to schedule, the new Miaramar will open its doors to the public in 2027, according to the project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

In a statement issued after the meeting, Peterson and Ellis O’Connor of MSD Hospitality, thanked the Commission and the community that supported the project over the years.

"We appreciate the California Coastal Commission’s unanimous approval of our project and are incredibly humbled by, and grateful for, the extraordinary outpouring of support across the community," they wrote.

"We look forward to writing the next chapter in the Miramar’s storied history."

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