The tattered and aging Third Street Mall--called both Santa Monica's heart and one of its eyesores--is due for a face lift.
Years of planning have finally produced a major renovation project for the three-block outdoor shopping center. Final design plans for the $10-million project have been approved by the City Council, and construction is scheduled to start by May of next year.
Officials hope a remodeled, more attractive mall will bring back many of the customers and investors who have stayed away in recent years. They especially hope to encourage a renewed night life.
"This will be a major transformation. In two years you're going to see quite an exciting area," said Darrell George, a senior analyst with the city's Community and Economic Development Department, who is overseeing the project for the city.
"By the time it's completed and opened, you'll see people coming back to the mall," he said.
Officials say construction should be completed by August, 1989.
The mall, whose official name is Santa Monica Mall, is a somewhat run-down stretch of shops and offices along 3rd Street between Wilshire Boulevard and Broadway. It opened to bustling business in the mid-1960s, but began to deteriorate and lose business by the late 1970s.
Trendier malls, like the nearby Santa Monica Place and the Westside Pavilion, also drained its supply of customers.
Some merchants half-kiddingly complain that transients now practically outnumber shoppers.
In 1983 the city formed the Third Street Development Corp. to begin work on plans for remodeling the mall. Years of design, re-design, debate, hearings and public workshops finally produced the current plan.
Key features include:
- Opening a 20-foot-wide road along 3rd Street, which is currently closed off, to limited, low-speed late-afternoon and nighttime traffic.
- More restaurants for outdoor dining, new theaters and perhaps a cabaret.
- Palm and jacaranda trees and new sandblasted concrete paving.
- Improved lighting and signs.
- A "gateway" island at each end of the three-block mall, a market pavilion at Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue and a 24-foot "plaza" island at the 1300 block with a water fountain that can also be used for activities or to display of a major work of art.
- Black wrought-iron benches and trash receptacles and 300-pound stone flower pots.
- 300 additional parking spaces. Parking construction is scheduled to begin in January.
Eventually, the mall also will be renamed to "get away from the word mall , which has come to mean a closed-in box," said Thomas Carroll, executive director of the Third Street Development Corp.
City Councilman Dennis Zane, who has worked on the project, said plans are under way to have "signature artistic elements" placed at the islands.
He said investors are already expressing interest in different parts of the project.
"We haven't turned a shovel yet, and the amount of interest is quite exciting," Zane said.
Zane, who has called the mall the "heart of Santa Monica," said political consensus-building was an important element of the project to ensure it would have support over the years from both city government and investors.
"The mall (project) has occupied a favored political space," he said. "It was clear this project could not succeed if it appeared that it was vulnerable to changes on the City Council."
Carroll said that new parking for the project will cost $4 million and other improvements will cost $6 million.
To pay for it, property owners on the mall are being assessed 97 cents per gross square foot annually for 30 years to pay off bonds, or certificates of participation, that the city took out in 1986. The amount of the assessment will be reevaluated annually, George said.
Another million dollars will come from the city's general fund.
The first billing has gone out to property owners, and some merchants have expressed fears their landlords will pass the costs on to them.
Carroll acknowledged that, as renovation progresses, some smaller businesses may have to leave the mall.
"The bottom line is that it is going to be an exciting, viable place," Carroll said. "Some (of the smaller merchants) are working with us on the future, and I am sure others will decide not to be a part of it."
He emphasized that his firm will try to work with the smaller and older tenants, while trying to attract new ones.
"We are trying to have the level of assessment bearable," Carroll said. "There was some concern about the assessments, (but) people saw it as an investment: Pay a little and have a whole new era."
Several merchants said they hoped the renovation project will attract more customers to the mall, but they were taking a wait-and-see attitude. They were also concerned about costs.
"The idea is great, but we don't know in the process what will happen," said Kenny Bedrossian, a partner in the Stewart Photo shop, a 17-year tenant of the mall.