Capturing the Rhythm of
Downtown Santa Monica
Santa Monica Centric
Promenade 3.0: DTSM City embarking on public process to refresh Santa Monica's 'living room'
By Kevin Herrera

When business and civic leaders in the 1980s doubled down on their investment that created the Third Street Mall, reimagining the space into the beloved Third Street Promenade, there was no guarantee their faith would be rewarded.

A little more than a quarter century later, there’s no denying they have been, and so has the rest of Santa Monica. The Promenade, unveiled in grand fashion in the fall of 1989, helped spark an economic revival in the City by the Sea. The shopping, dining and entertainment district put Santa Monica on an international stage, drawing millions of visitors annually while contributing more than a billion dollars in sales tax revenue to fund critical programs and services for those who live and work here.

“The return on investment is almost impossible to measure,” said Rob York, of York Consulting Group, which provides real estate development consulting services to public and private developers, including Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. “It’s just incredible the change and halo effect the Promenade has had on the city as a whole. The viability of housing downtown, the hotel room rates and occupancy rates, office rents and occupancy rates. Across the board the Promenade helped make this a premium destination. It’s an amazing case study on the revitalization of a public space.”


But time has taken its toll. Concrete is cracking. Electrical systems are outdated. And the ways people are using public spaces have changed. It’s time to once again reinvest in what has been dubbed “Santa Monica’s living room,” ensuring that the promenade remains a beloved community gathering space for another 25 years and beyond.


Long advocating for capital improvements, DTSM, Inc. is working with the City of Santa Monica on an extensive public process to identify key infrastructure improvements as well as possible changes to how the public space is managed and programed to better meet the needs of residents and visitors.


(Third Street Promenade under construction.) 


Aspects of the Promenade the public will be tasked to consider changing include the concrete pavers that line the Promenade; the retail pavilions on the 1400 and 1200 blocks and whether or not to replace them with play equipment for children or performance space for community concerts and events; public seating; a storm drain and urban runoff collection system to make the Promenade more sustainable; and new landscaping.


The iconic dinosaur fountains are already undergoing a makeover, with the city paying for brighter blue tiles for the fountain pools, LED lighting and fresh concrete cladding to better present the topiary sculptures that have become cherished design elements of the promenade.


(A rendering of the iconic dino fountains after the proposed upgrades.)


Residents, property and business owners and other important stakeholders will all be asked to participate in the process. DTSM, Inc. will facilitate a series of public meetings featuring experts in various fields, including retail development and pubic space management and design, to help come up with a plan for the future of the promenade. These meetings will take place in April and May (April 18, May 1, and May 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.). A list of speakers and locations will be solidified in the coming weeks. DTSM, Inc. will be sending out formal invitations as part of an extensive public outreach campaign to increase engagement.

“Our vision is that each consultant would come to the Promenade and spend a day taking their own observations and understanding the dynamic of the space and how it functions, then lead an evening community engagement session which may be in the form of a lecture of design charrette,” said DTSM, Inc. Deputy Chief Executive Steven Welliver. “They would then submit follow-up documentation that encapsulates their findings and what they heard from the community.”


The City Council would then be called in to weigh in on the process, the infrastructure plan and designs. Funding sources would also need to be identified, most likely a combination of city funds and private capital, possibly in the form of a bond or property assessment.


Construction would take place during the early part of 2020, during a time when the Promenade is not as busy so as to limit the impacts on visitors and business owners.


Those who lived in Santa Monica during the 1980s may recall a similar pubic process when civic and business leaders decided to tear up the failed Third Street Mall to create the Promenade. Woodie Tescher, principal with PlaceWorks, Inc., which facilitates public outreach during planning initiatives, helped lead the discussions around the creation of the Promenade. He recalls a very robust public process where residents gathered in Promenade storefronts to play with models and “mall money” to identify priorities. Funding was always a stumbling block. There just wasn’t enough to go around, so some aspects landed on the cutting room floor, including creating a central performance space and better connections to the alleys and adjacent streets.


“I do regret losing the central gathering place,” Tescher said. “It would have been a place to hold concerts of other community events. It was in the initial plan, but eventually it was removed.”


Tescher said something to consider is removing fixed public seating and replacing it with street furniture that can be moved to accommodate different uses. DTSM, Inc. would store and maintain the furniture. Another element that is in vogue is installing more green space and possibly a kids’ play area.


“More landscaping helps soften the space and gives it more of a human scale,” he said. “Having a kids’ play area also helps to make the space more interactive.”


(Fun, interactive seating at Superkilen park in Copenhagen, Denmark, considered by some to be the world's most surreal public space.)


There will be trade-offs and compromise. But the important thing to remember during the process is that change is needed. The Promenade cannot remain stagnant.

“It’s a competitive environment,” York said. “You need to evolve.”


Across the board the (Third Street) Promenade helped make (Santa Monica) a premium destination. It’s an amazing case study on the revitalization of a public space.” — Rob York, retail consultant for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.

Kevin Herrera is a former journalist turned marketing and communication expert, beer enthusiast, cyclist, cultural observer/commentator and expert on all things Downtown Santa Monica. He is currently the sr. marketing & communication manager for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.