Santa Monica Place: Updating the Urban Experience

Fall 2011
The purchase of an out-of-business Macy’s store and the restructuring of tenant leases into shorter terms was part of Macerich’s redevelopment plan.

Retail owners and developers within the United States are realizing the valuable opportunity redevelopment could bring to their existing, and many times underperforming, properties. Many developers are reformulating outdated shopping centers and malls with new, out-of-the-box concepts that provide a more attractive and compelling urban experience and sense of place. The result is often an increased value to the owner’s investment, additional revenue to its home city and a catalyst for revitalization of adjacent properties. With hundreds of so-called dead malls in the United States alone, repositioning is becoming a necessity for many retail property owners.

The 1980’s-era Santa Monica Place Mall fell into this category. In the 1990s, it started to struggle with increasingly low vacancy rates and decreased consumer foot traffic, despite its location adjacent to the Third Street Promenade within the thriving downtown of Santa Monica, Calif.

Macerich, one of the largest U.S. retail owners, acquired the mall in 1999 and part of the transaction allowed Macerich to restructure the tenant leases, making all leases short-term — knowing that the redevelopment process would begin in 2002. During the community outreach process, Macerich bought 11 stores that Federated Department Stores (now Macy’s Inc.) had acquired from Robinson May. One of those stores included an out-of-business May store which is now the Nordstrom store.

Santa Monica Place Loveculture store

The interior elliptical shape of the central plaza is the heart of the project’s design, and is offset toward the south at the second and third floors in order to maximize sunlight penetration.

Designed by The Jerde Partnership, the repositioned Santa Monica Place has been entirely retrofitted to serve as the gathering place of the city -- a means of promoting and revitalizing urban connections while advancing concepts of sustainable retail development. As an example of social, economic and environmental sustainability, the new Santa Monica Place transformed the originally enclosed, multi-level mall by employing critical urban design strategies.

Focused on the idea of experience as the most effective catalyst for drawing people to a place, the new gathering space creates a visceral experience based on relaxation and recreation rather than consumption. By removing the mall’s roof and gutting the interior, the rejuvenated community destination has evolved into a vibrant urban village. Other changes include: implementing pedestrian walkways; introducing a fifth elevation concept – a signature indoor/outdoor rooftop Dining Deck; and extending Third Street Promenade to link to existing landmarks and the surrounding neighborhood.

In keeping with optimizing the customer experience, Macerich installed the “Find Your Car” system for shoppers who need assistance in locating their vehicle. The surveillance system allows customers to enter their license plate number into a kiosk touch screen which then displays a photo of the car and its location. The system, which uses a network of cameras and a central computer, “has proven to be a big asset so far,” said Doug Roscoe, senior manager of Santa Monica Place. Macerich paid to install the system in the center’s two city-owned parking garages, which have a total of 2,000 spaces. Kiosks are also located at the entries/exits of the center.

Creating a Better Flow

Santa Monica Place 3rd Street promenade

The transformation of Santa Monica Place included attracting an updated tenant mix of retailers such as Michael Kors.

Santa Monica Place has four entry plazas representing the various inspirations of the site: Third Street Promenade and its intimate pedestrian scale to the north (Broadway entry); the ocean’s serene openness to the west (2nd Street entry); the formality of the Civic Center and future light rail stop to the south (Colorado entry); and urban Los Angeles to the east (4th Street entry). As a critical component to the design on both Broadway and Colorado Avenue, the spacious entryways to the new Third Street extension form a direct connection between the Promenade and the Civic Center, linking the entire district to establish a new urban corridor.

The interior elliptical shape of the central plaza is the heart of the project’s design, and is offset toward the south at the second and third floors in order to maximize sunlight penetration.

Playing to Blue Skies and Ocean Breezes

In addition to creating critical urban connections to advance the viability of the mall’s redevelop­ment, the most transformative piece of the project emerged from opening the enclosed mall to the sky. Removing the roof supported the center’s sustainable endeavors and allows natural light and ocean breezes into the public spaces.

Santa Monica Place Dining Deck

There’s plenty of al fresco dining to be had at Santa Monica Place — with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

“Macerich approached the design of Santa Monica Place with the primary goal to give this project back to the city and its people. Santa Monica is best experienced outside, so removing the roof was a necessary part of tying the new project into the urban experience. To make Santa Monica Place func­tion like a part of the city, Macerich took great care both to make it look and feel like a natural extension and to create new gathering spots and destinations that will become a vital part of downtown,” said David Rogers, AIA, Jerde partner and principal designer of the project.

In its rejuvenated state, the new Santa Monica Place is being con­sidered for LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The sustainable attri­butes include:

  • Adapting the enclosed center to an open-air facility with solar panels for energy efficiency;
  • Increasing pedestrian connectivity and connections to public trans­portation;
  • Using reflective roofing materials to reduce the heat island effect;
  • Incorporating water-efficient land­scaping and other conservation measures;
  • Utilizing the same footprint, maintaining much of the existing structure (including the two park­ing structures);
  • Recycling existing materials; and
  • Managing stormwater drainage for percolation into the ground.

Mixing It Up

While maintaining sensitivity to the overall environment, equal consid­eration was applied to creating new attractions for the local community and regional audiences. Working closely with Macerich’s leasing group, the design team had to ensure the project would attract a new brand of programming. The existing tenants were replaced with new-to-the-market retailers and restaurateurs better suited to the area’s market conditions and upscale residents. In addition to anchors Bloomingdale’s and Nord­strom (both new to the area), Santa Monica Place is now 92 percent leased and home to 77 individual retailers and restaurants, as well as the recently opened Market which houses more than 20 independent purveyors offering gourmet, organic and artisanal foods to complement the upper-level Dining Deck.

Santa Monica Place Pizza Antica restaurant

Removing the mall’s roof, gutting the interior, implementing pedestrian walkways and introducing indoor/outdoor rooftop dining were some project elements.

Santa Monica Place re-opened in August 2010, highlighting a successful retail repositioning, derived directly from the col­laborative nature and complete engagement between developer, designers and the community. The new 524,000-square-foot complex of gross leasable space across three levels attracted an estimated 200,000 people on grand open­ing weekend alone. Emphasizing emerging trends in land use and reinvestment in a pedestrian-oriented downtown environment, Santa Monica Place delivers a lively urban experience and a new communal gathering space.