Bergamot Plans: Tomorrowland Or Swamp?

Saturday, 10 May 2014, 9:10:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

Full Disclosure: My life partner of 27 years is an artist and I write for the theater, which possibly allows us to deploy the words “art” and “artists” at dinners and receptions. Thus we’re both inclined to want any plans for the future of Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station to be of the ‘please don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-broke’ variety. Alas, I’m not certain that’s one of the options.

While there’s actually too many dimensions to review in one column space, the following might qualify as a thumbnail sketch of the situation: Metro Rail / ‘the train’ is going to have a stop operating at Bergamot (26th and Olympic) by the end of 2015, according to city personnel.

The current parking area for Bergamot won’t properly absorb cars left by those using the train once the stop is active. The City owns Bergamot and is currently not getting enough revenue from it.

Proposals from developers all include plans for a hotel (from which the city would collect tax revenue) and – because no plan ever doesn’t include it – retail. Add an expanded Santa Monica Art Museum and… well, as I said there are a lot of dimensions. And dilemmas.

To logically absorb the parking needs of a post-development train stop Bergamot Station, the area would need to add at least 600 parking spaces. Would that be an underground structure? If it was, the construction period for that would turn the art galleries currently at Bergamot into a ghost town. You might build parking on property that is at present part of City Yard, the area where you go with your recyclables. One pitch at a public meeting this past Tuesday at Bergamot suggested that space complications might be resolved if the City Yard could be the location for the hotel, giving Santa Monica what it has long wanted: Rooms with wonderful views of the recycling center.

Thanks to “phases” built into any development plan of this sort, none of these things is going to happen tomorrow and that’s both good and bad. It’s good that, right now anyhow, we won’t have to be hopelessly shouting protests as ground breaks for yet another hotel in Santa Monica. It’s bad in that the train is coming to that Bergamot Station stop and currently there is no date in place for adding at least the parking that train users are going to need.

One can pick up The Mirror and often see futuristic drawings or computer renderings of development that is proposed or on its way and have the feeling that anybody planning to construct buildings and hotels must be ahead of the ball on timing and integrating with the surrounding environment.

But while the meeting this past Tuesday night included that very sort of Tomorrowland-type imagery, it became clear that the planning and resolution of options for Bergamot’s future is more of a swamp than you’d like to think.

And yet, let freedom ring. All of the three development firms making presentations of their ‘pitch’ at the meeting for what might be done at Bergamot stressed repeatedly that they want to get the public involved in the planning process. They want “community consensus” on “a hub for the creative community” that will “build connections” and assist “community education” and “ensure sustainability.”

And then, maybe when we all fatigue of those things, we’ll swing by the Bergamot Station Hotel and throw back some $14 cocktails… at what might eventually be called “The People’s Artist Bar.”

Sorry. That’s just me writing a column. Let’s be sure to be fair: The notion that there must be a hotel at the born-again Bergamot Station is at present a default inclination that came out of city planning. A hotel would, in fact, be one way to improve city revenues on the site. Although when you start ‘crunching’ the revenue situation at the “new” Bergamot, things actually make a crunching sound. If added parking is made affordable, what pressure might that put on the rents for gallery tenants now and in the future?

If an expanded Santa Monica Art Museum – which in some of the planning gets free rent for at least a preliminary period – occupies square footage, does that rob the area of additional retail spaces that might be revenue producing?

In addition to these nuts and bolts-type mash-ups, there is also a light mist of mystery surrounding some of the proposals for Bergamot.

There was lots of talk about open space and green spaces... places outdoors where people could just hang. Yet if you visit Bergamot now even before trains start arriving there, you’ll wonder where all the trees and small amphitheaters and public spaces are actually going to go.

One thing is certain: Regardless of how one felt or continues to feel about the trains coming, there’s potential for a well-planned born-again Bergamot to be something really great for our city.

There’s just this unresolved swamp of questions involving how people are going to get there, where or if they’ll park when they do get there, or if they’ll ride their bikes to take the train downtown and then come home after a Dodgers game at about 11 pm and ride their bikes home from Bergamot. The public is deep in the mix on this one, however, and that’s good. Because it appears the situation needs all the help it can get.

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