With the imminent arrival of the light rail, Santa Monica is searching for a developer to make over the Bergamot Arts Station with the addition of a boutique hotel and, possibly, a new home for the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
The City Council approved Tuesday night a lauded plan to upgrade the 5.6-acre hub. The blueprints will be handed over to a developer of the council's choosing, which would would firm up the plan that’s already been crafted with input from current tenants and other stakeholders.
The new Expo Line—which will carry tens of thousands of riders from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica—is expected to usher in big changes to Bergamot station, including the demolition of the popular venue, Track 16. The Bergamot station is
"The timing is really critical here," said William Fulton, a planner with consulting firm Design, Community & Environment. "The demolition of the building is going to begin in the next few months. And that’s when it’s going to become very apparent to everybody that the Expo Line is coming."
Construction for the Bergamot train station is expected to begin this fall. City officials have said they want to capitalize on the opportunity without dampening Bergamot's flourishing art community.
Using transit funds, the city bought the property in 1989 from Southern Pacific Railroad with the intention of using it for future transportation and development opportunities, and as a source of revenue for the . It became a regional destination for artists and a home for world-renowned galleries after the city leased the property to Bergamot Station, LLC in 1994.
With the Expo station at Bergamot expected to open in 2016, the city began hosting workshops in 2011 for the community to weigh in on the site's future. Officials and staffers set out to develop a plan that would generate more revenue for the Big Blue Bus, which currently rakes in about $600,000 yearly from existing leases.
What they've proposed is:
- A mid-priced, 88-room boutique hotel on the westernmost part of the site, accessed from 26th Street, with a ground-floor restaurant and bar and underground parking;
- A two- to three- story "signature" building for a museum (possibly the Santa Monica Museum of Art) in the center of the site, possibly with shared theatre space and creative office uses on a third floor. The building would also house a café that opens out to a new plaza and a museum gift store;
- A shared parking structure with about 400 spaces;
- Renovations to existing buildings, such as insulation, roof repair, HVAC or other maintenance;
- Upgraded open space with amenities, particularly near the Expo station. Areas around the existing buildings and remaining surface parking would be repaired to resolve drainage issues, repaved and restriped.
"The proposed Bergamot Art Center plan is great," said the executive director of the , Elsa Longhauser. It "will be a thriving cultural hub for the city of Santa Monica... and SMMOA will be the welcoming gateway for new visitors as they embark and disembark from the train."
But planner Fulton cautioned the City Council Tuesday that it shouldn't take the site plan too literally.
"This our best guess about what might work for this site," he said. "It's not likely ... that what a developer is going to do is literally provide you with a way to do this exact site."
All of the improvements are estimated to cost about $54 million.
Strategic Economics, another consulting firm, evaluated the plan and concluded that the city stands to benefit most. The Big Blue Bus would see less revenue than it does now.
"It’s essential that we keep the bar high, we have a world class art center here," said Walter Meyer, an art instructor at . "At its core [this plan] preserves what’s there at Bergamot so our children and students of the college can walk and enjoy the very highest caliber of art."
The makeover of the Bergamot Arts Station is part of a larger plan to redevelop Olympic Boulevard east of Cloverfield Boulevard. A 766,094-square-foot" transit village"—a mix of residences, office space, shops and restuarants—is proposed directly across from the station. Just east of the "village" will be an even bigger project consisting of more homes and spaces for creative office and cultural art outlets.