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Santa Monica Place ready for a major redo?

Before Frank Gehry was the Frank Gehry of titanium-clad, international repute, the Los Angeles architect was a master of things disposable.

The Gehry-designed Santa Monica Place, a 540,000-sq.-ft. enclosed mall completed in 1980, captures the renowned architect's love of the temporary with its chain-link signage. And considering that retail strategies are constantly evolving, it seems perfectly fitting that building owner The Macerich Co. may soon redo Gehry's work.

In July, the Los Angeles Times reported that Macerich and the City of Santa Monica are drafting a proposal to redevelop Santa Monica Place, which was last renovated in 1990. The project intends to incorporate the building into the immensely successful Third Street Promenade, whose south end is anchored by the mall. Specifically, Santa Monica Place will be divided into two separate buildings, and previously interior retailers will be transformed into street-facing storefronts.

Macerich would not comment, but the Times also stated that a new “open-air district” would comprise “upper-level office space and housing.”

The extension of the Third Street Promenade through Santa Monica Place will enhance the site's urban qualities by “reconnecting the downtown with the city's Civic Center,” says Suzanne Frick, Santa Monica's director of city planning and community development. The Civic Center sits immediately to the south of Santa Monica Place; the municipality, which is in the planning stages of redeveloping and expanding the Civic Center, has been formulating its master plan in concert with Macerich's effort since early 2002, she says.

As the popularity of open-air shopping continues to spread, “The timing is perfect for doing a renovation for that mall,” says Christopher Maling, senior director for Marcus & Millichap's national retail group. The mixed-use Third Street Promenade includes “most every major retailer represented in that area, creating an open-air, lifestyle-type retail environment,” he says, and so Santa Monica's incision will actually “draw people inside” the mall by more easily moving them through it.

Although Santa Monica Place is an architectural landmark (located in a supply-constrained market, no less), that doesn't preclude it from staying current with today's retail trends, Maling says. “It's consumer-driven.” Construction may not begin until 2004, and Frick adds that executing the municipal transformation could take 5-10 years.

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