Negotiations will begin between the city and the owners of the who are seeking to tear down, rebuild and double the size of the hotel at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue.
With assurances from city planning staffers that alternatives for a smaller project than what's currently proposed—550,000 square-foot hotel with as many as 120 condos and shops and restaurants—will be fully vetted during an environmental review, the City Council voted 6-1 to proceed with the development talks.
The city will ask owners MSD Capital L.P. to make a number of concessions in exchange for building above and beyond Santa Monica zoning codes' height and density maximums.
As suggested by the council Tuesday night, some of the concessions could include the hotel providing a training program for its employees, hiring local workers and paying them above minimum wage, providing bicycle parking and incorporating public art in outdoor spaces.
The plans presented to the City Council Tuesday night were tweaked a bit since the Planning Commission criticized them in February for being too dense and the architecture too generic.
The biggest changes include increasing the number of hotel rooms from 265 to 280 and to growing the square footage of meeting space from 11,500 to 14,100 and retail space from 6,400 to 9,300 while shrinking the square footage allotted for condominiums from 253,000 to 239,000. The changes are expected to result in less traffic—a major concern for neighbors.
"They attempted to be responsive to the Planning Commission," said Councilwoman Gleam Davis.
"It's important that we really do vet alternatives," she continued. This is a prominent spot that deserves a stupendous project."
Despite the revisions, the plans continued to incite pushback from most of the council, which still considers the project to be too dense.
MSD Capital has come up with four alternative plans for the project that vary based on the height and placement of buildings and the location of entryways and driveways. None of the alternatives call for a reduction of square footage.
It also agreed to modify to its plans along Second Street, including eliminating a dedicated driveway entrance for condo residents, extending the retail space further along Second Street and building a new pedestrian entryway.
The City Council was pleased to hear that the owners are also agreeing to move forward with suggestions from planning staff that it divide a park at the corner of Wilshire and Ocean into two zones, the first would be open 24/7 to the public and the second would be open to the public when it's not being used for hotel functions.
The new design shows a 25-foot wide, "always open," 10,000-square foot park along the east side of Ocean Avenue (with Palisades Park across the street). At a separate grade would be the "conditionally open" space in front of the hotel ballroom and Moreton Bay fig tree, and a prominent piece of public art at the corner of Wilshire and Ocean.
About 50 people spoke to the City Council Tuesday night in favor of and in opposition to the project.
Many locals have said the project would be way too big for Santa Monica. Merchants, the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. said it would generate much needed revenue for the city. The consensus has been that a redo is necessary, but not every one is sold on the plans.
"The people wearing the stop signs [stickers] tended to say they wanted the hotel revitalized... and the friends [of the project] wearing the blue stickers said they're not fond of the whole enchilada," said Councilman Kevin McKeown.
McKeown cast the dissenting vote. He wanted the council to require MSD Capital to come up with a plan to reduce the project’s massing by 25 percent before the city even initiated the environmental review.
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. It purchased the hotel in 2006 for $204 million and has made about $10 million in updates since.
The proposed expansion is expected to cost $255 million, with the owners projecting to make about $40 million in the first 10 years after construction is complete.
The soonest doors would open to a renovated Miramar would be 2018.