Santa Monica’s Third Street Mall Set to Promenade : Reopens Saturday With High Hopes After an Elaborate Face Lift by City

Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica’s Third Street Mall, an aging and tattered outdoor retail center, is ready to promenade into the 1990s as a place where people will still shop, but where city officials and merchants hope they will also go for dining and entertainment.

After a two-year, $10-million renovation project and a name change, the three-block-long, 25-year-old mall will reopen next weekend as the Third Street Promenade, complete with life-size shrubs trimmed in the shape of dinosaurs, fountains and other landscaping embellishments.

Cafes, Theaters

The opening of the promenade will be celebrated Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. with a parade and dance concert.


For the first time in 25 years, pedestrians will share 3rd Street with cars. The new promenade will accommodate one lane of vehicle traffic in each direction, although the city will probably restrict such traffic to the late afternoon and evening.

The Third Street Promenade will still have many of the same retail shops, including the J.C. Penney department store, but it will eventually have new outdoor cafes, movie theaters, classy restaurants, nightclubs with dancing and live entertainment, office buildings and some residential units.

“The character will be one of a place where people will walk around from place to place,” said Thomas H. Carroll, executive director of the Bayside District Corp., the nonprofit group that will manage the promenade. “It’s exactly what we wanted.”

“I think the design of the public space is lovely,” said Mayor Dennis Zane, a major force in the mall’s renovation. “It was on a slow death march, and we have saved it.”

Businesses Killed

The mall’s decline was substantially aided by a succession of planning decisions by the city. Built in the mid-1960s, when outdoor pedestrian malls were the rage, Third Street met with modest initial success despite a serious shortage of convenient parking.

The city tried to solve that problem by building parking garages along 2nd and 4th streets--killing most business along those streets in the process and putting the entire neighborhood into a tailspin. The final blow to the mall was when Santa Monica Place, an enclosed shopping center with two department stores as anchors, opened across from the mall in 1981.


Efforts to renovate the run-down shops and offices along 3rd Street between Broadway and Wilshire Boulevard began in 1983. A final plan was adopted in 1987, and construction began in May, 1988.

City officials actually began their effort to create a new shopping and entertainment district a few years ago by persuading two comedy clubs, Second City and The Improv, to open on Santa Monica Boulevard between 2nd and 4th streets. City officials also encouraged new restaurants, such as the Broadway Bar and Grill, to open.

New construction focused on public improvements along the street, since the buildings are all privately owned. The city issued $13 million in bonds, with $3 million to pay existing debt, $4 million for new parking spaces and $6 million for the street improvements.

More Parking

Property owners will repay the bonds over 30 years through an assessment district.

For their money, property owners are getting 300 new parking spaces to bring the total in six garages along 2nd and 4th streets to 3,000.

In planning the revival, city officials and private developers included the entire neighborhood, not just 3rd Street. To restore some life to 2nd and 4th streets, retail space has been constructed on the street level of the garages, and the city will subsidize some rents there to bring in desirable tenants.

Along 3rd Street, the city has planted palm and jacaranda trees, improved lighting, placed wrought-iron benches and trash receptacles and built plazas at each end of the three blocks, containing fountains and the topiary dinosaurs. Sidewalks have been widened to 30 feet and the street narrowed to 20 feet.

The City Council will decide Tuesday what hours traffic will be allowed on the promenade, although it is likely to be limited to after 3 p.m.

Though the improvements along the street have been all cosmetic, they have created excitement among developers and merchants who are moving into the promenade.

‘Going to Be Wonderful’

“In 1984 it was a very tough sell, but now everybody wants to be there,” said Barbara Tenzer, a commercial real estate broker for Sommer Broida Commercial Brokerage Co. who has been involved in the project for six years. “I think it’s going to be wonderful.”

The Janss Corp. is building three commercial projects along the promenade:

* A seven-story, 58,000-square-foot building at 3rd and Broadway with office space, a four-screen Cineplex Odeon theater, 32 apartments and a restaurant operated by Bruce Marder, whose other restaurants include DC3 and Rebecca’s.

* A four-story, 56,000-square-foot office and retail building at Santa Monica Boulevard and 3rd Street, scheduled to open in the summer of 1991.

* A six-story, 80,000-square-foot office building on 2nd Street in conjunction with Century West Development Co., also scheduled for completion in summer, 1991.

Bill Janss, president of Janss Corp., said he probably would not have built along the promenade if the city had not made the improvements.

“The fact that improvements were being made was instrumental in our decision to build there,” Janss said. “But it’s not just the improvements themselves, but the excitement when you get a district that has a lot of development.”

Viewed as Extension

Although the 8-year-old Santa Monica Place shopping center is on the south end of the promenade, it is being viewed as a complement rather than a competitor to the promenade.

“I see (the promenade) as a tremendous boost for the 160 businesses in the center,” said Tom Gilmore, group marketing manager for Rouse Co., the Columbia, Md.-based owner of the shopping center. “It will increase the critical mass necessary to get people to Santa Monica.”

Gilmore said Santa Monica Place will make some improvements of its own early next year, particularly in its food court and entrances.

But with the new shops and restaurants coming into the promenade, many older businesses have left. Some have moved to the rent-subsidized street-level spaces along 2nd and 4th streets, but other merchants have gone out of business.

Bayside District Corp. director Carroll said there is about a 30% vacancy rate in the 500,000 square feet of retail space along the promenade and 2nd and 4th streets. He said he hopes to have a mix of shops on the promenade, but acknowledged that when leases are up in a few years, many older shops may be priced out or find that the promenade’s new clientele is not interested in their merchandise.

“It’s regrettable,” said Mayor Zane of the expected exodus, “but I’m not sure it’s avoidable.”

THIRD STREET PROMENADE Location: a three-block stretch of 3rd Street, from Broadway to Wilshire Boulevard.

Size: 500,000 square feet of retail space in six square blocks, including shops along 2nd and 4th streets.

Parking: 3,000 spaces in six garages along 2nd and 4th streets.

Cost: $10 million.