The Santa Monica City Council agreed Tuesday, January 25th, to enter into a development agreement with the Macerich Company to redevelop the company’s Santa Monica Place mall.

Councilmembers unanimously agreed that redevelopment plans should move forward, but suggested that Macerich scrap controversial aspects of the project and start with public input.

“Our priority is to begin working with city staff to develop a comprehensive community outreach program to open a useful dialogue with the residents of Santa Monica,” said Randy Brant, Macerich senior vice president of development leasing.

Macerich, a Santa Monica-based company that owns dozens of malls throughout the U.S., wants to raze Santa Monica Place and build an outdoor mall surrounded by park space, office space and housing.

Plans also include extending Third Street Promenade one block toward the Santa Monica Civic Center and Main Street.

The residential component of the redevelopment plans may or may not include three 21-story towers for 450 housing units, Brant said.

These towers generated strong opposition from Santa Monica residents at previous Bayside District Corporation and Planning Commission meetings in December and January.

Brant said “it does not make economic sense” to redevelop the ten-acre site without housing, which would generate the revenue needed to move forward other parts of the Macerich plans.

About 30 people made public comments at the Santa Monica City Council meeting last week, with most agreeing that something needs to be done about the outdated indoor mall but disagreeing with Macerich’s current plans.

The development agreement, a process in which the city will grant developers some leeway around zoning ordinances in exchange for benefits to the public, will take a public-private partnership approach, city officials said.

Councilmembers and city staff want a larger say in Macerich plans because two city-owned parking structures would be torn down and rebuilt to include a high technology system that directs drivers to open parking spaces.

“The city owns roughly 20 percent of the land under the parking structures,” said Councilman Ken Genser.

The city may or may not have to pay for the new underground parking structure that Macerich wants, Genser said.

Also, large amounts of money have already been spent by the city to operate, maintain and seismically retrofit the two existing parking structures.

“With this much public investment, why should we feel comfortable with Macerich making all the decisions about this site?” Genser asked.

Macerich was directed by the City Council to hold public meetings monitored by city staff, pay for two consultants chosen by the City Council and issue reports to the City Council concerning the public input process every three months.

One consultant would advise the city and Macerich on the economics of redeveloping Santa Monica Place with and without housing.

The other consultant would facilitate the estimated six-month public input process of creating and receiving information from surveys, workshops, forums and display presentations.

“The action we take today is just the beginning of a process,” said Councilman Richard Bloom. “We will have a good deal of public process, hearings and oversight.

“There are many stops along the way before this is a done deal.”

City manager Susan McCarthy said the public input process should be “substantially expedited” so that Macerich would not have lease problems with Santa Monica Place tenants.

“We have a window of opportunity right now where Macy’s and Robinsons-May [the mall’s two anchor department stores] have agreed to shut down for two years, which is something they have not ever done anywhere else,” said Arthur Coppola, Macerich president and chief executive officer.

Councilmembers also agreed with city planning director Suzanne Frick, who recommended that the Santa Monica Place redevelopment process be held on a “parallel track” with the Civic Center Specific Plan public review process.

In 2001, the City Council approved including Santa Monica Place in the Civic Center Specific Plan, which sets development standards and ordinances for the Civic Center area.

The mall is located between Broadway and Colorado Avenue and Second and Fourth Streets, at the south end of the Third Street Promenade.

The 570,000-square-foot mall was built in 1980, based on designs by renowned architect and Santa Monica resident Frank Gehry.