Following an enthusiastic endorsement from the Santa Monica Planning Commission in May, a mixed-use oceanfront development designed by Frank Gehry has now received a similarly warm blessing from the full Santa Monica City Council with council members “heaping praise” on the $350 million project, per the Santa Monica Daily Press.
The council’s 6–0 approval of the project development agreement, one bolstered by an estimated $53.3 million community benefits package, marks a major milestone for the Gehry-helmed Ocean Avenue overhaul, which has been in the works as far back as 2013 and has been subject to a handful of design revisions over the years. Blending new construction with the adaptive reuse of two historic buildings designated as landmarks by the city, the project is also a coastal return of sorts for Gehry, whose notable early works (including his own home) can be found near the breezy beaches of Santa Monica and neighboring Venice.
With Santa Monica City Council now lined up behind the project, there are a small handful of critical approvals that must be sought before building permits can be formally issued and construction can commence. Next up, local developer Worthe Real Estate Group must present the project to the California Coastal Commission for final approval; the project also must go undergo design review by Santa Monica’s Architectural Review Board and Landmarks Commission. Once these boxes are checked off and work begins, the LEED Platinum-targeting project is anticipated to take three years to complete.
Encompassing an entire downtown block of the storied seaside city just down the way from the Third Place Promenade–anchoring Santa Monica Place (originally designed by Gehry as his first mall project), the project is mixed-use through and through, with Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich exclaiming that the yet-to-be-named complex “has it all.”
“This project brings together historic and new architecture to create a very special place on Ocean Avenue,” she said.
As detailed in a press announcement, core components of the decidedly very Gehry-looking development, as proposed, include a 120-room full-service hotel complete with a spa and meeting and banquet facilities; 100 apartments, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms with a mix of market-rate (64), rent-controlled (19), and deed-restricted affordable units (25); a little over 36,000 square-feet of dedicated retail, restaurant, and commercial, space; a newly created pedestrian mall and plenty of open public space at street level, and a large parking garage that will tuck underground and include an ample amount of bicycle parking spots and EV charger–equipped spaces.
Notably, the development will also feature a so-called “Cultural Uses Campus” that encompasses a new museum building and two revived and reused historic buildings at the site. Per the city, the future museum “will be designed to attract and exhibit works of significant local, international, and established and emerging artists and architects” and will also “showcase exclusive pieces from the archives of Frank Gehry for at least 15 years.” A range of educational and community programming will also be offered at the museum, which is anticipated to generate $1.8 million in annual benefits for the city. Discounted admission will be offered to Santa Monica residents and young visitors.
Physically topping things off will be a 5,000-square-foot rooftop observation deck affording sweeping panoramic views of Santa Monica Bay. The rooftop space will be freed-up for events held by local nonprofits once per month and net proceeds from the $1 entrance fee applied to visitors over the age of 10 will be donated to the Santa Monica Education Foundation.
The project also includes more than $6 million in one-time monetary contributions including $2,160,000 earmarked for Santa Monica parks and recreation projects, $2,225,000 toward improving local transportation infrastructure, $1,000,000 toward early childhood initiatives such as preschool subsidies, and $400,000 for affordable housing. Lastly, the benefits package includes $250,000 for what the city describes as “equity and economic opportunity initiatives.” This includes “seed funding to support local entrepreneurs from disadvantaged communities and investment in related community partnerships and non-profit organizations.”
Additionally, Santa Monica residents currently living in rent-controlled units at the development site will have relocation costs to “alternative residences” covered by Worthe Real Estate Group, with the rent at these new apartments remaining the same. When the project is completed, these residents will have the option to move into the new development with rents consistent with pre-construction rates.
An anticipated 2,800 new jobs are expected to be created by the development, with $258.2 million in one-time economic outputs based on construction efforts, $59.8 million in annual economic outputs based on the annual operation of the onsite hotel, retail, and estimated household spending, and an estimated $6.2 million ($3.4 million net new) in annual fiscal impacts to the City’s General Fund to support City services, per projections shared by the city.