The Santa Monica City Council and Redevelopment Agency — made up of all the council members — has approved the latest proposal for the remodel of Santa Monica Place, which originally opened in 1980.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday, September 11th, the council and the agency approved the Santa Monica Place project and amendments to existing agreements for construction, operation and maintenance of the mall and adjacent parking facilities.

Additionally, the agency adopted the “mitigated negative declaration” for the project.

This means that the currently enclosed mall, owned by Santa Monica-based The Macerich Company, is one step closer to being extensively remodeled into an outdoor shopping venue.

“Instead of having a mall that closes itself off from the community, it opens itself up,” said the city planning director Eileen Fogarty. “It’s going to be a great project.”

And that’s what’s wrong with Santa Monica Place today, said Macerich vice president of development Bob Abtaker — that the mall is in an enclosed environment, is inward-facing and is not pedestrian-oriented.

“It’s a suburban type shopping center in an urban environment,” Abtaker said, which is why Macerich proposed this remodel of Santa Monica Place.

The basic project components include creating an open-air dining area on the third floor of the mall and removing most of the roof of the mall to create an open-air extension of the Third Street Promenade.

Additionally, the Second Street, Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue mall entrances will be redesigned to create stronger pedestrian orientation and a portion of Parking Structure 7 will be demolished to create an open-air connection to Broadway and the Promenade.

“We see a strong synergy with the Third Street Promenade,” said Macerich representative Robin Young.

In 2004, Macerich, which owns 73 shopping centers across the country, including Santa Monica Place, proposed a mixed-use plan that included residential towers.

“But clearly this plan was not right for the community, so we began an outreach process called ‘Re-imagine Santa Monica Place’,” to gather community feedback on the project, said Young, who pointed out that the community input has helped shape the plans as they are today.

In outreach meetings, Macerich heard several recurring themes, including that community members wanted the mall to create a better connection with the Third Street Promenade, the Pier and the Civic Center, Young said.

In June, Macerich presented a revised remodel plan to the Planning Commission and the commission unanimously supported the project.

“We all know and regret that it has been tough times at Santa Monica Place as far as the level of business activity happening there recently,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown at the meeting. “One of the reasons why staff is telling us this is a good project — I think it is a good project — is it will increase the sales revenue and therefore the city income, which benefits all of us in Santa Monica.”

However, McKeown was concerned about the traffic impacts, even though he believes that, in the short term, the project may improve some of the downtown traffic.

“How do weÖ adequately assess the impact on traffic?” McKeown asked.

Councilman Ken Genser said he wanted a “better understanding and agreement on how we’re going to measure traffic.”

The city’s staff report for the project says, “As proposed, the project does not alter the traffic and circulation of the project area,” although some people question this.

McKeown was also concerned about whether or not individuals could walk through the open-air mall during non-business hours, an issue staff will look into.

Several members of the public spoke at the meeting, most in favor of the project, including Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce chairman Tom Larmore.

Larmore pointed out that, for many years, the mall attracted retailers and restaurants, but that “times have changed and a new direction is now necessary, not just to restore Santa Monica Place to its previous level of significance, but to take it to a new level for our community.”

But Diana Gordon of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City had one question that she said had repeatedly been asked with no answer.

“How is the city going to understand and calibrate the new traffic impacts from a successful mall?” Gordon asked at the meeting.

Now the project will go before the Architectural Review Board, the Santa Monica Arts Commission and the California Coastal Commission.

“After that process, we expect to begin construction in the first quarter of 2008 and have our grand opening in the fall of 2009,” Abtaker said.

During the construction process, the mall will be closed.

Macy’s department store, which is at Santa Monica Place but independently owned, may decide not to take part in the project and if that’s the case, the store may remain open during this period of time.

“We’re very much looking forward to bringing a new Santa Monica Place that will be a place of pride and enjoyment in this community for years to come,” Abtaker said.

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