The Planning Commission met to gather feedback about the proposal to rebuild and more than double the square footage of the old hotel that’s “in desperate need of revitalization” but that still boasts a AAA Four Diamond Award.
Eighty people requested to voice their opinions Wednesday night, though there were at least triple that number in attendance.
“We know this is an important site. We know that we’ve got to get it right,” said Alan Epstein, who manages real estate investments for the property owners.
Plans to overhaul the 4.5-acre site include the construction of up 120 condominiums, new retail outlets and restaurants, three times as many parking spaces, a one-acre public garden and plaza at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue and up to 40 low-income-housing units on hotel-owned property on Second Street.
Opponents who described the future project as “bulky” and “massive” urged the Planning Commission to restrict the owners to refurbishing only the existing hotel. Some downtown office workers said the big changes would block their ocean views.
“Expansion was necessary once upon a time” but is now taking an “enormous toll on our beach,” said longtime resident Avery Auer. The noise and debris from construction will blanket Palisades Park with a whole bunch of “blech,” she said.
A new 10-story, 104-foot-tall building is proposed for the corner of Ocean and California avenues. The existing 10-story tower and 12-story elevator tower at the center of the site would be demolished and replaced with a new 12-story, 135-foot-tall building. The existing two-story administration building would be demolished and replaced with a new 11-story, 122-foot-tall structure.
Those who called themselves friends of the proposal showed up, too, blue stickers affixed to their collars. They advocated for the expansion as a revenue generator for the city.
Additionally, some supporters pointed to the hotel’s plans to preserve two historic features on the site: a fig tree from Australia planted on the grounds in 1879 and what’s named the Palisades Wing, a six-story structure that was supposed to be the first phase of a grand plan from the 1920s to build an 840-room hotel.
The Miramar Hotel is owned by an affiliate of MSD Capital L.P., an investment firm with offices in Santa Monica, New York and London. The property’s ownership has changed hands many times since the firm’s purchase in 2006 and its first use as a hotel in 1924 by Gilbert Stevenson, who built the Palisades Wing.
"We started thinking about how to revitalize [the hotel] almost immediately upon buying it," Epstein said.
The Ocean Tower opened 35 years later under the ownership of another hotelier, Joseph Massaglia.
It is now one of 17 hotels in downtown and along the beachfront, although that number could climb to 19 if the city approves construction of a Marriott and Hilton at the corner of 5th Street and Colorado Avenue in the coming months.
"The majority of those in the hospitality community welcome the improvements and proposed upgrades," said Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Vice President of Sales and Services, Alison Best "Even as competitors, they understand the re-investments will benefit all."
Peggy Molloy, the manager of Babette at 1343 Fourth St., said she and the women's clothing retailer are looking to the Miramar expansion to catalyze activity at the north end of downtown, just as the remodeled Santa Monica Place has done for the Third Street Promenade's southern end.
"As I understand it, the Miramar site will remain, but will be a livelier, a greener and more exciting attraction," she said, noting she wasn't concerned that the addition of new retailers would hurt existing businesses. "It will offer a wide range of exciting activities from sitting and watching the sunset at Ocean and Wilshire to staying at a five star hotel. This is a win-win."
Because its proposal exceeds the city's zoning standards for height and density, MSD Capital will have to enter into a development agreement with the City Council, which could include it agreeing to concessions such as promising to hire local workers and to pay a living wage.
"The attorney for the Huntley [Hotel] argued that our project is massive, [but] we have a large site, a very large site," Epstein said.
Project Components Proposed Current Guest rooms 265 296 Food/Beverage space (square feet) 12,080 3,796 Meeting space (sf) 11,500
21,225 Retail (sq) 6,400 525 Spa (sq) 13,483 5,569 Market-rate residential units up to 120 0 Affordable residential units up to 40 0 Parking spaces up to 4,842 160 Total floor area (sq) 550,064 262,284 Floor Area Ratio 2.9 1.4
Building heights on site (feet):
- Palisades Building (existing to remain60 60 - Ocean Building (replaces Ocean Tower) 133 105 & 135 - California Building 104 n/a - Second Street Building (replaces admin. building) 122 25 Open space area 51 percent 36 percent
Given the late hour after listening to several hours of public testimony, the Planning Commission postponed its discussion of the Miramar proposal until Feb. 22.
"A lot of the people have left... this is a site of such importance, that it's a very valuable thing to be seen deliberating when people can watch us and can be here," said commissioner Richard McKinnon.