Making The Right Urban Design Decisions For Santa Monica’s Bergamont Station
By Bob Chew
It’s never easy for a city to re-envision the old part of town. Do we tear it down? Keep it untouched? How about a hotel with a craft brewery?
The sun-kissed and progressive City of Santa Monica has been grappling with the re-imagining of its old rail and bus yard, Bergamont Station, for years.
Today, the industrial sheds and warehouses are part of the city’s Art Center, including the Santa Monica Museum of Art. But now with Los Angeles’ nearly ready to roll Metro Expo rail line coming into the old station area there is an urgency to make decisions that are running late.
The city-owned property is a few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and consists of 5.6 acres and five buildings. But it’s more complicated than that.
There’s an additional two‑acres in the Arts Center that is privately owned and filled with 27 creative tenants, including art galleries, designers, a non-profit theatre company, and a café. Across Olympic Boulevard there is a planned new Metro Transit “village,” and adjacent to that a new concept for apartments, office, retail, and creative space. The Bergamont area has become massive project and soon a case study in urban planning and living, and decision-making.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is getting agreement on what to do with the Art Center complex and the broader area of land surrounding the rail line, expected to bring 3,000 riders a day through the station perhaps as earlier as next year.
The goal is to keep the current warehouse art vibe, without turning it into “The Grove,” locals say with a snarl.
If you don’t know The Grove, it’s the hugely successful retail/restaurant/entertainment development created by local developer Rick Caruso. He built a modern European-style streetscape on the former parking lot of the crumbling, empty, and near bankrupt Farmer’s Market at Fairfax & 3rd Street. Yes, success can bring detractors and traffic.
Fearing a major revolt of the locals, the city put out a request for help and feedback. As a result, and years of delay and cost, they selected a $92 million plan with some very interesting features. And it seems they are ready to act, finally.
The plan calls for hundreds of apartments, live/work units for artists, hundreds of thousands of square feet for offices, restaurants and retail space. The design includes common plazas, walk paths, a park, and even two new streets, and, of course (it’s LA), nearly 2,000 parking spaces buried underground.
There is also talk of a swanky 100-room hotel. But the big carrot is a brand new 20,000 sq. ft. Santa Monica Museum of Art building, making it twice as big as the current one.
The city's economic development unit recommended entering into exclusive negotiations with one developer, 26Street TOD Partners, whose plan calls for the new $7-million Rios Clementi-designed museum at the developer's cost, but with an additional $10 million for the art museum's endowment. A nice deal for art, but there are worries of skyward rents driving away the little guys that currently create the warehouse vibe that makes Bergamont cool today.
Here are some schematics and renderings of the proposals. Put on your urban design hat and see what you think is best for Bergamont.
A new Art Museum, hotel, office, and entertainment complex will be part of the new Bergamont Village complex.
A 100-room hotel is planned for the site (above). The new Metro Expo rail line will have 3,000 riders a day passing through the new complex.