Even before the global pandemic upended the commercial real estate industry, Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade has faced the same challenges common to brick-and-mortar retail worldwide. As of 2021, nearly 40 percent of the landmark pedestrian mall's storefronts are vacant. As the mall is responsible for 15 percent of Santa Monica's annual sales tax revenue, the growing number of empty storefronts is making its impact felt in the city's budget. In the hope of reversing the trend, the organization which helps to maintain the Promenade is setting out plans to draw back businesses while creating a more vibrant experience for visitors.
The Third Street Promenade Stabilization and Economic Vitality Plan, released on August 4 by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM), is intended as a roadmap for the future of three-block mall. Developed over six months, the plan proposes new zoning regulations to enable uses outside of the offices, restaurants, and retail establishments that currently dominate the mall. Other recommendations include the addition of new cultural amenities along the corridor, as well as the activation of underutilized alleyways and nooks for use by the public and businesses.
“As communities are considering meaningful ways to recover from the economic devastation brought about by the pandemic, DTSM and the City of Santa Monica together with property owners, passionate local residents and industry experts have laid forth a significant infrastructure investment to address the ongoing needs of the Promenade and the downtown district,” said DTSM Board Chair Barry Snell in a prepared statement. “Our hope is the Vitality Plan will help encourage better use of public and private property in an effort to help recapture the street’s vibrancy while building an exciting, diverse and inclusive new era that meets the evolving needs of our residents and the greater Santa Monica community for years to come.”
The strategies included in the Vitality Plan call for using new landscaping, lighting, and public art to create a "an exciting new vibe," making the corridor attractive to both businesses and visitors. Capitalizing on the art displays and impromptu musical performances that have long been a staple of a trip to the Promenade, the plan calls for expanding its calendar of permanent and temporary displays and events.
In addition to informal small concerts, the Vitality Plan also recommends the creation of a new arts center on the Promenade capable of hosting live theater, dance performances, and similar events. While only a handful of properties along the street are capable of serving in such a role, the plan focuses on the AMC theater at Arizona Avenue as its example opportunity site. Repurposing the seven-screen multiplex would also dovetail with another recommendation of the plan: to convert the Promenade's intersection with Arizona into a new "town square," that could be closed intermittently to host larger public gatherings.
The Vitality Plan also urges the adoption of updated zoning regulations for the Promenade - including relaxed restrictions on uses that could permit the development of housing or hotel uses in select locations. Likewise, the plan proposes more creative uses of existing real estate to support restaurants and stores - including expanded outdoor dining at the street level and on rooftops, as well as the activation of underutilized alleys with public art, landscaping, and lighting.
“The Vitality Plan will be a vital resource with which we can all work together to help generate new and innovative uses of private properties. It focuses on creating an exciting new experience for our diverse and expanding customer base,” said Promenade Advisory Committee member and Robert Resnick. “Recommended zoning changes will be instrumental for tenant strategies on each of the three blocks, with tools to help landlords adapt their space to emerging market demands. These initiatives, supported by robust public space activation steeped in art, culture and diversity is our roadmap for the next generation of Third Street Promenade.
Some of the initiatives incorporated into the Vitality Plan are already in progress, including the installation of new lighting and interactive displays. Additionally, DTSM has developed a leasing strategy with the goal of attracting a more diverse array of businesses, with a particular focus on small-scale enterprises that are not currently located in Santa Monica.
The Vitality Plan adopts some elements from Promenade 3.0, a more capital intensive proposal to revamp the pedestrian mall with new paving, street trees, and other physical infrastructure. Prior to the pandemic, city staff had targeted a 2023 groundbreaking date for the initial phase of the project.
For more information on the Vitality Plan, visit DowntownSM.com/Promenade.
- Third Street Promenade (Urbanize LA)