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Community Weighs in on Mall Design

By Jorge Casuso

July 18 – Starting from scratch and taking their project straight to the people, Macerich officials last week embarked on a public campaign to help redesign Santa Monica Place, the struggling indoor mall Downtown.

The scaled back redevelopment, mall officials said, will be shaped by the lessons learned from residents who weighed in on an aborted plan to tear down the 25-year-old structure and replace it with a podium of stores that held a park, an office building, an apartment complex and three condo towers.

Early sketches unveiled at the ongoing community meetings show a modest reconfiguration of the exiting mall that slightly scales back the structure’s bulk, extends the Third Street Promenade into the mall and provides plenty of open air and views by removing the roof and relocating the food court to the third floor.

The center court would be an open-air gathering place. (Renderings courtesy of Macerich Company and Jerde Partnership)

“We’ve learned a lot about what you want,” Robyn Young, Macerich’s manager of development marketing, told members of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition during a presentation Monday. “It is important that we come up with a plan that fits not only with our company, but with the community.”

“The mall today doesn’t work. It’s broken,” said Robert Aptaker, vice president of real estate. “It’s an eyesore in the community, and what we want to do with our money is fix it.”

The centerpiece of the new design – which is still in its initial stages – is a round open-air center court with wide passageways that connect the mall to the Promenade to the north and the Civic Center to the south.

“It has a different feel and look,” Aptaker said. “It will have a very open feeling that we don’t currently have.

“We will have not completely open air, but you’ll look up and there will be birds and sky and rain and whatever comes down,” he said. “We don’t want it to be mallish.”

The third-floor sundeck would include the food court.

A key component will be moving the food court, which is at the Promenade entrance, from the first to a third-floor sundeck, where tables under the shade of umbrellas will provide ocean views between the stores.

“The food court (currently) acts as a barrier,” Aptaker said. “We want to remove that to create a seamless transition, so you can walk from the Promenade into Santa Monica Place.”

Unlike the previous plan, which included 450 units of housing and 100,000 square feet of office space, the proposed redesign focuses on retail, retaining most of the exiting 120 stores and the mall’s two anchor department stores.

“We really want this project to remain retail, just as it has been,” Aptaker said. “We want to match retail to the needs of the community.”

Macerich’s recent acquisition of Robinsons-May gives the mall owners more “flexibility,” Young said.

Members of the Wilshire Montana Coalition had plenty to say about the project, especially about the parking and traffic some worry will grow worse.

“What are you going to do to mitigate traffic?” one woman asked.

“We’ve taken a big plan and scaled it back,” Aptaker responded. “We’re certainly not making it worse.”

Macerich -- which operates the two City-owned structures at the mall -- hopes to charge competitive rates for its parking spaces, which are free for three hours, Aptaker said.

This encourages area workers to shuttle their cars after the free time is up, adding to the area’s traffic woes, mall officials explained.

Mall officials said the parking structures would remain open during construction, which would take two years. The rest of the mall would be shut down.

The Third Street entrance would link directly to the Promenade.

Coalition members had suggestions of their own. One woman proposed building a remote lot at the eastern edge of the city. Visitors could park there, then ride a free shuttle into the heart of the city, where they would receive 10 percent discounts as a perk.

Others worried that the new stores would cater to the young shoppers that flock to the Promenade or would be too pricey for many residents.

Aptaker said a consultant is “doing a feasibility study” to help determine what kinds of stores Santa Monicans want.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where we say, ‘We’ll have this retailer, that retailer,’” he said. “We want to try to match the retailers with the community.”

Macerich officials said they hope the input from the community, which will continue, will help shape a project that is still on the drawing board.

“This is very conceptual,” Aptaker said. “The City has not seen it yet. We met with four groups (so far). We want to establish a dialogue.”

Upcoming meetings:

July 27 – Chamber of Commerce, 1234 Sixth Street, 7:30 a.m. and
  Bayside District, 1351 Third Street Promenade, Suite 201, 6 p.m.

August 3 -- Friends of Sunset Park, Mt. Olive Church, 1343 Ocean Park Blvd., 57:00 pm

September 11-- Sustainable City Task Force, City Hall, 7:00 pm

September 13 -- Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1920 Main St., Suite B, 5:00 pm

September 18 -- Task Force on the Environment, City Hall, 7:00 pm

* TBD -- North of Montana

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