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$350M Village Will 'Bring Back Neighborhood'

A ceremonial ground breaking begins construction of $350-million housing development on Main and Olympic. City leaders say people will want to visit the Civic Center area once again.

A $350-million development across the street from City Hall will restore to the area a neighborhood vibe reminiscent of the Belmar Triangle, a black neighborhood leveled in the 1950s to make way for the Santa Monica Civic Center and Auditorium, city leaders said Thursday.

Under a chic white tent on a 3-acre site along Main Street, between RAND Corp. and the future Pacific Palisades Garden Walk, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held for what will become "The Village."

It will consist of three buildings. In total, they will house 160 so-called affordable apartments, 158 condos, 20,000 square feet of retail outlets and restaurants, in addition to public gardens, paseos and plazas.

"This is one of a few condominium projects to be financed in the past year," said Bill Witte, President and CEO of developer Related California. "It was difficult to get all of this done in this climate."

Just a few months ago Witte reported trouble securing lenders.

According to the Santa Monica Look Out, in October, he told the City Council in that building on leased land, rather than property the company owned outright, was making banks wary in an already tough lending market. The now-defunct Redevelopment Agency purchased the land on which the Village is being buit as part of an 11.3-acre swath formally owned by RAND.

In response, the council narrowly voted to extend its lease from 99 to 149 years. It's also kicking in a $19.4 million loan.

The Resmark Companies, Wells Fargo Bank and HSBC Holdings Plc eventually agreed to finance the $350 million in construction costs.

The Village is part of a major revamp of the Civic Center area. Among the other projects in the works are: the Colorado Esplanade, a thoroughfare that will serve as the future gateway into downtown; the Expo Light Rail train station at Fourth Street and Colorado; $50 million in retrofits to City Hall and a renovation of the Civic Auditorium itself.

With its civic buildings and big parking lots, the area as it exists today is "not hospitable," and it "offers residents few reasons to visit," said Andy Agle, the city's Director of Housing and Economic Development

"We're bringing a neighborhood back," he said, noting that one Village building will be named "The Belmar."

The lead architect on the Village is Santa Monica-based Moore Ruble Yudell. The firm's major projects include the U.S. Embassy in Berlin and the Santa Monica Library. Included in its design for the Village is a center walkway that will connect Main to Ocean Avenue through landscaped plazas lined with shops and eateries. A "floating" glass sky bridge over the entrance to the walkway will greet residents as they enter.

"Very soon over 300 families—really think about that—will be living steps from the ocean... this is going to be an amazing place," said Mayor Richard Bloom.

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