The Story of Third Street Promenade: Part 3

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The success soon spread to neighboring streets. Restaurants began lining Ocean Avenue, new hotels opened in or near Downtown and new apartment buildings began rising on the outlying streets.

“The Promenade’s success was a tremendous shot in the arm for the rest of the Downtown,” Curran said. “It became a more desirable place to go. It felt like a more fun, hip, lively destination.

“Between the Third Street Promenade and the rebuilding of the Santa Monica Pier, we had a critical mass of attractiveness for tourists in a beautiful setting,” Curran added. “That spurred hotel development.”

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Before the Promenade, Downtown’s old hotels – some of which had been built in the 1920s as hotel-apartments for wealthy vacationers – were no longer serving overnight visitors, and few, if any, new hotels were being built.

“Many of the hotels had converted to long-term care or apartment buildings,” Zane recalled. “These hotels had stopped being hotels because the City had not been attracting visitors at all.”

“About the same time the Third Street Promenade planning was underway,” Jalili said, “nobody was interested in building a hotel. The Promenade’s success sparked that interest.”

After the Promenade took off, high tech companies began hunting for offices spaces Downtown, where the district’s more than 27,000 employees can take a stroll to the world-famous strip and spend their money where they work.

“Workers don’t just sit in the office, they eat, shop, go out to movies,” York said. “It’s the diversity of our customer base that keeps the economy going. People are getting out, and Santa Monica is one of the preferred places to shop, live and work.”

The success of the Promenade also fueled a housing boom that has been rapidly transforming the heart of the city into a full-fledged neighborhood. In 1996, after the City Council voted to offer developers incentives to build housing Downtown, new apartment buildings started going up on 5th, 6th and 7th streets. So did affordable housing developments and high-end condos.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people living in the district would more than double, from 1,340 to 3,075, according to the Downtown officials.

“The incentives made it economically viable and attractive to bring new housing,” York said. “It addressed a market need and really created a full community, which is still an ongoing process.”

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Over the past decade, new shopping and entertainment venues have cropped up around the region. But few, if any, have been able to emulate what makes the Promenade such a special place.

“The Promenade has a diversity of look and feel,” York said. “It has that authenticity that feels good to people from every background. You hear four or five languages on the street, and it is still used by local residents.”

Despite its astonishing success, Downtown officials caution that it is not wise to assume the Promenade will continue to thrive in the face of growing competition. And they have been taking major steps to insure the strip remains one of the LA areas premier destinations.

“It’s not just for shopping and dining out, it’s for living,” then Mayor Richard Bloom told the crowd gathered at the official launch. “This is our city’s living room.”

As Santa Monica celebrates the Promenade’s silver anniversary, Downtown and its world-famous strip stand at a threshold. City officials are hammering out a Downtown Specific Plan that will help fine-tune Santa Monica’s economic engine for the next quarter century. The train will soon arrive, linking Downtown to the region by rail for the first time in more than 60 years.

Downtown stakeholders are confident the Promenade will be celebrating its 50th birthday in another 25 years.

“The whole process,” reflected Jalili, “started when residents were complaining they had to go outside the city to make purchases. Now, everybody outside comes into Santa Monica.

“That’s as big a turnaround as you can have.”

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