By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After the Frank Gehry–designed Santa Monica Place opened just south of the Promenade in 1980, the outdoor mall went into further decline. The city even considered a proposal to build a people mover, a horizontal elevator that would carry visitors along the three-block stretch. The idea quickly died. City officials, Jalili said, "feared people would bypass the Promenade and go to Santa Monica Place."
By the 1980s, the street had become a blighted row of struggling shops and vacant storefronts. "Seedy is a nice word," said Katz. "We used to joke that this is a hell of a place to go at noon. We joked about turning it into Porno Alley." Once again, city officials began to explore ways to salvage Santa Monica’s dying core. The challenge was met by landlords and tenants who worked closely with the city. "We had a group of committed stakeholders who wanted to invest and make a major change," Mathieu said. "These 55 people were as driven a group as I’ve ever seen. They were people who had a dream and wanted to put their blood, sweat and tears behind it."
A $13.3 million bond issue was approved to make much-needed public improvements, an assessment district was formed to help pay off the bond and a non-profit corporation was created to oversee the downtown center. In case the experiment — which had been tried with little or no success in some three-dozen centers across the country — didn’t work, the city made the traffic barriers removable.
The city provided the final lift when the council banned movie theaters from locating anywhere but on the Promenade. Three multiplexes soon opened their doors and the restaurants and retailers followed. Boosted by the sudden collapse of Westwood Village after a rash of gang violence emptied its streets in the early 1990s, the Promenade soon became one of the Los Angeles area’s biggest attractions.
"There wasn’t any road map," Zane said. "We were writing the road map."
The unprecedented success of the Promenade has made it a model for the future of outdoor malls — a cross between an old-fashioned central plaza and a commercial strip. And the wary council members who instinctively laid the groundwork in 1989 now lecture on its success to audiences as far away as Boston and Düsseldorf, Germany.
"The success of the Promenade has confounded the expert thinking of the time," said Zane. "We did not envision downtown as a retail center. We had to be something different. We thought of it as a community center with dining, cinema and some kinds of entertainment."
"Doing it was kind of like we’re on a discovery, we don’t know what we’re doing," Katz added. "It was exciting. We had nothing to lose. Now we’re on top. We’ve got everything to lose."
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