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Major Changes Ahead for Santa Monica Pier

The century-old pier will retain its looks, from the old carousel to the newest rides, but big changes are ahead in the way it's run.

You'll have to look closely to see outward signs of it, but theis about to begin a major transformation.

The famous destination for some four million visitors a year will look much the same, but the two-year transformation will change the way the city manages the century-old pier and will replace the nonprofit corporation that oversees events that make the pier such an attraction.

The goal is to make the pier's operation more efficient and thus more cost-effective.

Currently, several city departments are involved with the pier's economic development, maintenance, custodial services, safety and engineering. Each department sees the pier from the perspective of its specific task. Newly named Pier Manager Rod Merl's job is to coordinate and focus the efforts of all those departments.

"It will give everyone —within the city and the community, the tenants, the visitors—one focus point for their problems, ideas or suggestions," Merl said.

"The pier is unique, yet it is many things,'' he said. "It has a commercial element, but it's a park. It serves a lot of purposes; some of them generate profit, some of them don't."

The goal, Merl said, is to find a balance in the overall operation that will, among other things, end the need to subsidize expensive operations such as maintenance.

Change is also coming to the nonprofit Pier Restoration Corporation, which was created after two winter storms destroyed one-third of the pier in 1983.

In February, the 11-member restoration corporation will be replaced by an interim seven-member board that will have what the city calls "a refined focus on event production, marketing, promotions, sponsorships, fundraising," plus a role in promoting public participation in a Pier Master Plan.

The re-titled board will retain the primary responsibility for events such as the summertime concerts known as the Twilight Dance Series, which Merl says the city wants "to have a long and happy life."

The city is accepting nominations for membership on the new board until Jan. 17. Although the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau will submit nominations, Merl insists the city will "cast a wide net" to "get seven very highly motivated and skilled people" for the non-paying positions.

"The board members are going to have to work hard,'' during their two-year appointment, he said. "They'll be expected to meet [frequently] and start at almost a run."

With all the behind-the-scenes activity, Merl expects the typical pier visitor to notice only subtle, but important, changes, such as improved maintenance and cleanliness.

In addition, work will begin soon on improvements to stairs, lighting and the pier's supporting infrastructure.

Something else pier-goers will see is Merl himself, whose office is on the pier.

"I think it's essential to be out on that pier every day, talking to people, to find out what's going on with the tenants, to find out what visitors are experiencing," Merl said. "It's those experiences that should shape how we provide our services. You can't do that from an office."

Merl will work closely with Elana Buegoff, senior development analyst at the city's Housing and Economic Development Department, who played a key role in the study that led to the coming changes.

Merl's most recent service in Santa Monica has been as airport administrator, dealing mostly with non-aviation tenants and finances. Prior to coming to Santa Monica, he was the long-time planning director for Hermosa Beach.

corner soul January 03, 2012 at 06:04 PM
I hope the new board removes the superfluous parking on the pier and pedestrianizes the entrance road. It makes no sense to force the throngs of tourists into single file lines with those tiny entrance sidewalks, when there's ample parking right next to the pier. They should just close it off to cars, except deliveries and emergency vehicles.
Paul Rich January 03, 2012 at 07:31 PM
My optimistic hope is that the great majority of funds will come from private enterprise and not tax-payer dollars. The city council hasn't proven to be very fiscally efficient in the past. In regards to closing the driving entrance, I think that's a brilliant idea and can be accomplished by providing freight elevators where the parking lot is now and electric trucks on-the-pier freight transport. The entrance could then become a tourist attraction, an architectural showcase ... stairs with a flower/plant median down the middle ... of even cable cars similar to Angel's Flight downtown. The extra space from the parking lot could be converted to retail space or perhaps a cool upscale nightclub, restaurant or sports bar.

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