Santa Monica, California

February 9, 2012 by staff 

Santa Monica, California, Wearing red stop-sign stickers emblazoned on their shirts, residents who fear that Santa Monica will turn into Miami Beach packed City Hall on Wednesday to oppose a major redo of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.

The Planning Commission met to gather feedback about the proposal to rebuild and more than double the square footage of the old hotel that’s “in desperate need of revitalization” but that still boasts a AAA Four Diamond Award.

Eighty people voiced their opinions Wednesday night, though there were at least triple that number in attendance.

“We know this is an important site. We know that we’ve got to get it right,” said Alan Epstein, who manages real estate investments for the property owners.

Plans to overhaul the 4.5-acre site include the construction of up 120 condominiums, new retail outlets and restaurants, three times as many parking spaces, a one-acre public garden and plaza at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Ocean Avenue and up to 40 low-income-housing units on hotel-owned property on Second Street.

Opponents who described the future project as “bulky” and “massive” urged the Planning Commission to restrict the owners to refurbishing only the existing hotel. Some downtown office workers said the big changes would block their ocean views.

“Expansion was necessary once upon a time” but is now taking an “enormous toll on our beach,” said longtime resident Avery Auer. The noise and debris from construction will blanket Palisades Park with a whole bunch of “blah,” she said.

A new 10-story, 104-foot-tall building is proposed for the corner of Ocean and California avenues. The existing 10-story tower and 12-story elevator tower at the center of the site would be demolished and replaced with a new 12-story, 135-foot-tall building. The existing two-story administration building would be demolished and replaced with a new 11-story, 122-foot-tall structure.

Those who called themselves friends of the proposal showed up, too, blue stickers affixed to their collars. They advocated for the expansion as a revenue generator for the city.

Additionally, some supporters pointed to the hotel’s plans to preserve two historic features on the site: a fig tree from Australia planted on the grounds in 1879 and what’s named the Palisades Wing, a six-story structure that was supposed to be the first phase of a grand plan from the 1920s to build an 840-room hotel.

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. The property’s ownership has changed hands many times since the firm’s purchase in 2006 and its first use as a hotel in 1924 by Gilbert Stevenson, who built the Palisades Wing.

“We started thinking about how to revitalize [the hotel] almost immediately upon buying it,” Epstein said.

The Ocean Tower opened 35 years later under the ownership of another hotelier, Joseph Massaglia.

It is now one of 17 hotels in downtown and along the beachfront, although that number could climb to 19 if the city approves construction of a Marriott and Hilton at the corner of Broadway and Second Street in the coming months.

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