Bergamot Station Re-Development Plan Turns Ugly

[via Santa Monica Daily Press]

When the L.A. Metro Expo Line station opens next to Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station in early 2016, it will provide a cheap and easy way for thousands of Angelenos to visit the arts center. While this may seem like a boon for the galleries there, residents are divided over the accompanying redevelopment plans, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Bergamot Station Gallery Cultural Association, made up of over forty galleries and organizations located there, recently drew up a petition requesting that “City of Santa Monica Officials cease plans for redevelopment until the survival of the core tenants of Bergamot Station is ensured.” It currently has 10,500 signatures. As they see it, the three development proposals currently under consideration — all calling for a hotel, retail, underground parking, and an expansion of the Santa Monica Museum of Art (SMMOA) — would disrupt business during construction, and worse, turn the complex into a Grove-like shopping mall.

The SMMOA unsurprisingly declined to sign the petition. The $92-million proposal currently favored by the city’s economic development department involves a new museum built by Rios Clementi Hale Studios, thereby doubling its current space to 20,000 square feet. In a retaliatory move, the museum’s landlord, Wayne Blank, has tripled their rent due to “what he considers its disruptive and unneighborly vision for Bergamot Station.” Blank also owns Bergamot’s Shoshana Wayne Gallery and was a partner in a competing development deal until he resigned, now calling for the rejection of all proposals.

Development is obviously not a bad thing per se, but none of these proposals is convincingly right for Bergamot. The city has called for 100 percent retention of current tenants, but is that a good thing? (And is it even feasible, given that these small businesses will have to contend with a major construction project at their front doors?) Further, the emphasis on an underground parking structure seems misguided, when the new Metro extension should be promoted as a car-free way to visit the arts complex. Other gallery clusters (Culver City, Chinatown) have thrived in the city without massive parking structures, hotels, or upscale retail. Although its luster may have faded some as newer, hipper art scenes pop up, Bergamot still boasts the largest concentration of galleries in the Western US. While some may argue correctly that quantity does not equal quality, it still houses notable examples of the old guard, like Rosamund Felsen and Craig Krull. If supporters of the development proposal aim to amplify Bergamot’s role as a vibrant cultural center, it seems unlikely that adding a Louis Vuitton or Prada boutique will do the trick. If anything, it will hasten its decline into becoming an upscale shopping mall, echoing a similar fate that befell SoHo twenty years ago.

also by Matt Stromberg

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