3rd Street Promenade: A Destination, Not A Pass Through

November 2, 2011 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In this new special series, Metro Jacksonville will highlight what several peer cities across the country have created and are implementing to become destinations and not pass throughs. Here, we look at the world-famous Third Street Promenade in Downtown Santa Monica.

Drawing locals and world travelers alike, Downtown Santa Monica is a popular Southern California coastal destination, minutes from beaches and the Pacific Ocean, with an ideal mild climate. It's known for its weekly farmers markets, fabulous dining, terrific shopping and engaging street performers.  It is considered a premier shopping and dining district on the Westside and draws crowds from all over Los Angeles County.

About Third Street Promenade

Third Street Promenade has been a center of business in Santa Monica since the town's inception in the late 19th century. The Promenade's roots date back to the 1960s when three blocks of Third Street were converted into a pedestrian mall. Although successful, by the late 1970s, the Santa Monica Mall (as it was then called), was in need of modernization and a redesign. A new enclosed shopping center, Santa Monica Place (1980–2007), designed by Frank Gehry was added at the Promenade's southern end. A citywide bond measure was issued and architectural firm ROMA Design Group was hired to redesign Santa Monica Mall. The renamed Third Street Promenade opened on September 16, 1989, and has since become the nationally recognized success that it is today. The project was part of a larger redevelopment effort, encompassing several blocks of Downtown Santa Monica. Santa Monica Place has since been renovated into a new open-air shopping and dining experience that re-opened on August 6, 2010.

Although wildly successful, many long-time local residents of Santa Monica have mixed feelings about the Third Street Promenade, particularly about the homogenized stores and restaurants and the loss of the distinct personality and individuality provided by such independent stores as Midnight Special Bookstore, present in the original mall. This "clone" aspect makes Third Street Promenade almost indistinguishable from any other outdoor plaza (i.e. the Grove or Universal City Walk). Other points of contention for locals center on the increased traffic along Santa Monica Blvd, Wilshire Blvd. and Arizona Avenue, and over-crowded parking structures.

The Third Street Promenade has seen a drastic decrease in local businesses in favor of sanitized chains. Larger tenants include Anthropologie, H&M, Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters, a three-story Gap, Forever 21, Abercrombie and Fitch, Sephora, Armani Exchange, Guess?, Apple, American Eagle Outfitters and Old Navy. It boasts several theatres, including Mann Theatres, AMC Theatres, and Loews Theatres. Third Street Promenade also hosts the largest and oldest certified organic farmers' market each Wednesday and Saturday on Arizona Ave. between 2nd and 4th streets.

Street performers and entertainers are a frequent sight on the street. On a typical Saturday night in the summer, singer-songwriters, classical guitar players, magicians, clowns, hip-hop dancers, lounge singers, session drummers, and other artists line up approximately 40 feet 50 feet (15 m) apart from each other all along Third Street.

The Third Street Promenade and Downtown Santa Monica are overseen by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (formerly Bayside District Corporation), a private non-profit 501(c)3 that works with the City of Santa Monica to manage services and operations in Downtown Santa Monica that promote economic stability, growth and community life within Downtown Santa Monica.

Financing & Economic Impact

What is now Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade — a retail, entertainment and shopping destination that many consider the heart of Downtown — was originally a regular street with automobile traffic. That changed in 1965 when Third Street was converted into one of the first pedestrian malls in the country.

In 1984, the Santa Monica City Council created a city-funded nonprofit 501(c)(3) agency called the Third Street Development Corporation, later renamed the Bayside District Corporation, now Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM, Inc.) and charged with the directive of keeping the area vital.

After a two-year planning process to develop a new approach to the area, a 1986 bond issue to fund the project and a 1988 groundbreaking, a new and revitalized Third Street Promenade launched September 1989.

The initial $13 million investment by the City of Santa Monica attracted additional private investment estimated at more than $500 million. The City also created the Third Street Promenade and Downtown District assessment fee. Funded by tenants within the district, the assessments, along with sales tax and other funding, generate approximately $13 million per year for Promenade management. This includes operation, maintenance and repair of public improvements — cleaning parking structures and pavement, landscaping maintenance, etc.— Santa Monica Police Department services, utilities and marketing programs.

Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. is bordered on the west and east sides by Ocean Avenue and 7th Street, respectively; the north and south sides by Wilshire Blvd. and Colorado Ave. The Third Street Promenade includes the three blocks between Broadway and Wilshire Blvd. There are public parking structures on 2nd and 4th streets between Wilshire Blvd. and Broadway and one structure just north of Wilshire on 4th Street.

Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica Place is a shopping mall located at the south end of the Third Street Promenade, and is also two blocks from the Santa Monica Pier and the beach. It underwent a massive, 3-year renovation process beginning in January, 2008, and was re-opened on August 6, 2010.

Santa Monica Place opened in 1980 adjacent to the old Third Street Mall and was renovated in 1991 and again in 1996. For the next ten years, the mall was three-story, 570,000-square-foot complex. It featured 120 shops, including upscale brands such as Kenneth Cole and Williams-Sonoma, along with its largest store, Macy's. It is 152,000 sq ft on three levels. The mall also featured a Robinsons May department store, but this was closed due to the merger between Federated/May Co. in 2006.

Santa Monica Place was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry early in his professional career with Gruen Associates, constructed in 1980, and renovated in 1990. It has served as a backdrop for several films and television shows, most notably the exterior of the Ridgemont Mall in Fast Times at Ridgemont High; it has also been used in Pretty in Pink as well as Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Beverly Hills, 90210, and in the video game Midnight Club: Los Angeles.


Developer, The Macerich Company, purchased the mall in 1999 and in 2004 proposed tearing down the mall and replacing it with a 10-acre complex of high-rise condos, shops and offices. The plan met with strong opposition from local residents who felt the project did not meet the low-rise character of the neighborhood and would worsen traffic. In a second 2007 proposal, Macerich significantly scaled back its plans, which was received as positive by the public, and was passed. The project involves removing the mall's roof, gutting out the interior, create public walkways, an indoor/outdoor dining deck, and other adaptive reuse measures. The two anchor department stores have also been converted, with Macy's rebuilt as Bloomingdale's and Robinson's-May turned into a Nordstrom. The architects who carried out the project were Dallas-based Omniplan in association with the Jerde Partnership. The grand reopening occurred on August 6, 2010.

Santa Monica Pier

The Third Street Promenade is within short walking distance of the historic Santa Monica Pier.  The large, double-jointed pier is a prominent, 102-year-old landmark.  In contains Pacific Park (a small amusement park), a carousel, an aquarium, shops, entertainers, an arcade, a trapeze school, a pub, and restaurants.  The end of the pier is a popular location for anglers.

Downtown is the heart of this beach community, which is situated on the bluffs overlooking Santa Monica Bay.

Anchored by the pedestrian-friendly Third Street Promenade, Downtown is
30 city blocks of retail stores, entertainment and dining. Within blocks of the Promenade are the beach, Palisades Park and Santa Monica Pier.

Parking is available at seven public parking garages, as well as at metered street spaces.

Downtown Santa Monica is located only 12 miles north of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and is easily accessible by car or bus. Popular areas such as Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Downtown Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Malibu and Venice all are within a 40-minute drive.

Enjoy your visit to Downtown Santa Monica!

For Jacksonville's Consideration

While there may not be a comparable environment in Jacksonville or the beaches, what Santa Monica has become today is the result of a community that invested in itself to become a destination and not a pass through.  Quality economic development and continued job creation are long term results of those efforts.

Photographs by Daniel Herbin and Ennis Davis.