Innovative Third Street Promenade Can't Imagine Building a Ross Dress for Less There
Downtown Santa Monica, Inc Knows What We Want (Better Than We Do)
January 19, 2019
In response to our article of December 26, (In the Face of E-Commerce, Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade Struggles to Remain Relevant), we were contacted by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the public-private entity that manages the downtown, for a tour of the 3rd Street Promenade and a discussion of how it is and will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.
We're always up for a tour, so last Friday I met with Kathleen Rawson, CEO of DTSM, Inc., and she schooled me about the Third Street Promenade.
A dynamic redhead, Rawson was relieved that I appeared to understand the one shared fundamental goal of all parties, the City, the landlords, and the tenants. "To make money," I said.
She nodded and added a gentle correction. "To increase prosperity."
Rawson told me, with some frustration, that DTSM cannot tell landlords what tenants to obtain. But she says DTSM does try to guide landlords toward leasing to the kind of businesses that will make the Promenade a desirable place.
As we made our way toward the prior location of the departed Barnes and Noble book store, Rawson pointed toward another large, empty storefront. "For example," she told me. "Can you imagine putting a Ross in there?"
Being too old to be embarrassed any more, I said, "I'd like a Ross there." Indeed, I could easily imagine how nice it would be to have reasonably-priced clothing within walking distance.
Rawson was visibly dismayed. "A Ross would change the character of the street."
Rawson's dismay increased. She tried to explain to me that what needed to appear in that space was something "innovative" and "creative." Ignoring the storefronts full of chain operations behind us, she told me it was important to get tenants that no one had seen already in other places.
"A maker would be good," she told me.
Of course, I then needed her to explain to me what a "maker" was. That's a business that makes their products on the premises for the public to watch. Performance product, so to speak. Rawson thought a cheese maker would be a good addition to the Promenade.
But whether cheese maker or another Gap, Rawson understands that stores want to be smaller these days. With so much merchandise sold online, the brick-and-mortar businesses don't need to lay out as many wares. She says DTSM is trying to help landlords figure out a way to downscale.
In addition to guiding landlords, DTSM is responsible for the public space and what it looks like. Rawson admitted that for twenty years, the Promenade had been "on auto-pilot." When the present streetscape of cobblestoned road and dinosaur fountains was first constructed in 1989, it was the absolute vanguard of outdoor pedestrian malls. Rawson gave presentations about it all over the world. But now, the Promenade is just one of many such outdoor shopping streets.
Now, Rawson and DTSM realize that some adjustments need to be made in order to keep tourists coming and residents coming back. Several hundred thousand dollars are being spent on world-class urban designers for a new look. The "experiment" composed of Adirondack chairs and bean bag toss games in the second block is just an interim measure to get people talking and interested about the future of the outdoor street.
In discussing the attraction of the street to locals, Rawson admitted to wrestling with the problem of the homeless. Her attitude seemed to ride a line many of us navigate between compassion and irritation. While she has a task force who check up on the Promenade's daylong "residents," who Rawson is proud to say make sure to touch every homeless person at least once a day, Rawson has also worked hard to move homeless feedings off the Promenade and into more suitable spaces.
Crime is also a problem, something Rawson is sure has been on the rise over the past year. She depends on the Hospitality and Maintenance Ambassadors to maintain a presence and contact authorities when they see a public safety issue.
Despite the fact that tourists dish out the bulk of money spent on the Promenade - only 14 percent of purchasers are from Santa Monica - Rawson claimed that DTSM's ultimate goal is to please residents. "They're what will give the Promenade longevity," she told me.
If so, I think she should encourage that landlord to lease to Ross.