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City Council Taps Local Developer for Downtown Santa Monica Dream Site

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 12, 2013 -- A world-class architect will design the development that could occupy 2.5 acres of prime real estate in Downtown Santa Monica City officials have called "a dream site."

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to start negotiations with Metropolitan Pacific Capital (MPC) to build a proposed 12-story mixed-use building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas on the City-owned land.

MPC beat out a competing -- and larger -- development designed by local architecture firm Koning Eizenberg and backed by Related Companies, one of the nation’s top real estate developers.

"We have the opportunity to create a thoughtful, integrated, successful public space right in the heart of our downtown," said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. "This is one of the opportunities that, really, a city dreams about."

The 2.5 acres of land south of Arizona Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets -- bought up by the City as separate parcels over the course of three decades -- remains one of the last pieces of undeveloped real estate in Santa Monica’s thriving downtown core.

The Council was primarily concerned that the chosen project, which could begin construction by 2017, would have ample shared parking, affordable housing and “exceptional, sizeable and programmable" public open space.

"It would just break… all of our hearts if, at the end of the day, we built something and it turned into the wasteland that the plaza at 4th and Wilshire is," said Councilmember Gleam Davis, referring to the concrete courtyard at the OneWest Bank building.

She also said that the site is vital to maintaining Santa Monica’s “park-once” policy.

“We're only going to have the chance to excavate this site once,” she said, adding that the City should take the opportunity to “create a reservoir of parking.”

Both MPC and Related proposed about 1,200 parking spaces beneath the site.

The “reservoir” of parking, Davis said, could let smaller projects Downtown off the hook for having to meet costly parking requirements.

That would allow developers to divert resources to such things as historic preservation and repurposing old buildings, she said.

The fact that MPC is proposing 225 hotel rooms on site was a major selling point for Union representatives, who saw the possibility of union jobs at the location.

Francis Engler, the west side director for UNITE HERE Local 11, said that MPC had initiated discussions with the union, which represents hospitality workers in Los Angeles County.

Engler said that also having 48 of the 96 proposed housing units in the development designated as affordable housing could potentially benefit workers.

Originally, MPC proposed a project with no housing, but came back with a redesigned project after the Council postponed a final decision on which project to choose in August.

Some Council members were concerned that, as proposed, the 148-foot tall development would surpass the City’s current height limit of 84 feet.

"Of all the areas downtown where I'm not afraid of height, it's this particular location,” said Councilmember Ted Winterer. But, he added that he would still like to see the project modeled within the 84-foot limit.

Councilmember Bob Holbrook said that the height question comes second.

"We've gotta put things in perspective... and we can't sacrifice architecture and artistic values," he said.

Mayor Pam O’Connor agreed that the community get as much as possible from the project, even if it means a 10 or 12-story building.

Still, there is a long road ahead since Tuesday the Council agreed to a year-long exclusive negation agreement with MPC.

"We aren't ready for the wedding,” O’Connor said, “but we are kind of getting engaged."

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