Capturing the Rhythm of
Downtown Santa Monica
Santa Monica Centric
City Council backs plan to reinvest in Third Street Promenade

The Santa Monica City Council wants city planners and Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. to continue moving forward with a dramatic remodel of the Third Street Promenade, including changing zoning codes to make it easier to host larger events on the street as well as give property owners more flexibility in how they lease their commercial spaces. 

Council members urged those overseeing Promenade 3.0, the comprehensive public process to reimagine the Promenade 30 years after it was created, to "be bold" when developing a master plan and financing strategy for the redevelopment of the street, which is one of the most celebrated public spaces in the world. The council's decision follows nearly two years of research, placemaking experiments, and stakeholder engagement that framed the discussion around three areas: programming, policy and design. 

"Our predecessors were bold in 1989 and it's time to be bold again as we reimagine the total experience of the Third Street Promenade," said Mayor Gleam Davis. "It's time to reinvest in a community asset that has enriched lives and significantly contributed to Santa Monica's prosperity." 

The project vision is for the Third Street Promenade to remain the heart of Downtown Santa Monica, authentically representing the community's values, culture, and economy. It will build on the qualities that have made the downtown hub a thriving place. 


"When the Third Street Promenade debuted thirty years ago, it revolutionized the way we look at public space in Southern California," said City Manager Rick Cole. "It's the heart of our historic Downtown, the hub of commerce, dining, and entertainment and we are committed to ensuring it continues to be a place beloved by residents and visitors alike. The world is changing, but great public spaces have timeless qualities and we envision the evolution of the Promenade to emphasize the opportunity for people to enjoy a memorable, welcoming, and dynamic experience no matter how often they come." 


Renderings of a re-imagined Third Street Promenade, courtesy of Rios Clementi Hale Studios.



City staff, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., and design firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios presented opportunities to update the programming, policy, and design of the Promenade. Here are highlights of Council's guidance: 


·         Create greater flexibility in uses to encourage a diversity of businesses, such as nightlife, arts and culture venues, and roasteries or breweries. 

·         Activate alleys as vibrant pedestrian spaces and leverage underutilized small spaces for uses like galleries and entertainment venues.  

·         Pursue expanding the role and responsibility of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. for public space management and events programming. 

·         Expand kiosk opportunities for business owners who may not otherwise be able to afford storefront space. 

·         Continue developing a design that imagines a transformation of the streetscape and public amenities. 

·         Incorporate ample public art, movable seating, event and performance spaces, and a market square that integrates the Downtown Farmers Market and would allow for            expansion of other market concepts. 

The Promenade generates 15 percent of Santa Monica's taxable sales, however, downtown officials have been warning that unless there is a major change, the street will eventually go the way of the old pedestrian mall it replaced. 

That mall, said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica Inc., "was all the craze in 1965," but of the 250 pedestrian malls developed nationwide during that era, only 10 percent remain.

"We were leaders when we created the Third Street Promenade," she said. "Consumer tastes have shifted" away from the big box stores and multiplexes that allowed the Promenade to thrive.

"Online retailers and snarled LA traffic give people a really good reason to stay home," she said.

Urban space designers presented three options for the council and downtown property owners to consider. One would be to simply improve the infrastructure of the Promenade by raising the roadway at select locations, demolishing the retail pavilions on the 1400 and 1200 blocks, and retain the jacarandas and palm trees. Another option would be to raise the entire roadway and eliminating the current curbs that prohibit groups to gather. 

A more comprehensive remodel would include repaving the entire Promenade, replace the aging sewer system and electrical, add new street trees and new kiosks for curated retail. Some possible additions are a play area for kids, an observation tower with views of the ocean, an expanded farmers market and architectural shade canopies that would be both functional and aesthetically appealing.  

"We need to open up the throttle and see how creative we can be," said Councilman Greg Morena. "I would encourage [you] to think big and be bold, consider every single possibility and let us pair it down from there." 

Councilmembers called on more collaboration amongst property owners when it comes to leasing new tenants so that they can create an environment that appeals to a wider array of visitor instead of just operating in a vacuum. Curating different experiences in retail or entertainment would provide for a better mix and encourage people to stay longer. 

"The Promenade has succeeded beyond the initial dreams of 30 years ago as fundamentally a place for consumption," said Councilman Kevin McKeown. "We are finding changes in how people want to spend their time … . For the Promenade to succeed in that sense … we're going to have to figure out a way … that allows that kinds of uses and activities that lead to engagement and participation." 

Community members are invited to learn more and provide feedback on the future of the Promenade at an open house on Saturday, Dec. 7 at the Santa Monica Police Department substation located at 1431 Third Street Promenade. An exhibit will up through December where residents can stop by and provide input. Details on these opportunities will be posted to later this month.