Mayor Pam O'Connor presents owners of the Westide Comedy Theater in Downtown Santa Monica the "Essence of Santa Monica Award" at Thursday's event.
Mayor Pam O’Connor presents owners of the Westside Comedy Theater in Downtown Santa Monica the “Essence of Santa Monica Award” at Thursday’s event. (photo from Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.)

Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., the nonprofit that oversees the bayside city’s bustling “living room,” celebrated another year of well-rounded success Thursday morning at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.

And with the number of jobs and homes on the rise, a burgeoning tech industry, and new transit options poised to revolutionize the way people get to and around Downtown Santa Monica, there was a lot to celebrate.

“The energy of Downtown Santa Monica is the interesting mix of people and cultures,” Mayor Pam O’Connor told the crowd gathered Thursday morning.

“The daytime population in Downtown averages 100,000 and 250,000 citywide on a typical day,” Santa Monica “That’s a lot of people that need to get around!”

Getting Around

O’Connor, who represents Santa Monica and the Southbay on L.A. Metro’s Board of Directors, talked about combining regional and local improvements that would make it easier to get around without a car.

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While Downtown Santa Monica is already a transit hub, served by Metro and Big Blue Bus, there is even more room for improvement.

“While Santa Monica is widely considered pedestrian friendly, challenges persist regarding safety,” O’Connor said. As a result, the City has begun working on Pedestrian Action Plan, which will help make Santa Monica’s streets welcoming and safe for pedestrians, especially near major transit nodes and in commercial areas like Downtown, she noted.

She pointed to Santa Monica’s success in implementing its award-winning Bike Action Plan, including 45 more miles of new or enhanced bikeways and 1,930 new bicycle-parking spaces.

She also talked about the Expo light rail, which is expected to start carrying passengers between Downtown Los Angeles and Downtown Santa Monica in early 2016.

“The train is coming and we are excited about it,” she said. “Frankly, most of us live regional lives,” she said, adding that Expo will give people the option to do so without a car.

With Phase One of Expo, which runs between Downtown Los Angeles and Culver City, already exceeding ridership expectations, O’Connor said that Expo was on track to becoming “one of the most popular rail lines in the country.”

A Diverse Downtown

Referring to the pending Downtown Specific Plan, O’Connor said that the area is “on the cusp of another transformation” that will not only bring more transit options, but also keep Downtown a vibrant and welcoming place.

In a video shown at the meeting, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Board Chair Patricia Hoffman talked about the importance of community participation in creating the area’s success.

“In 1989, City representatives, business owners, and local residents came together to revamp a quiet and destitute 3rd Street Mall,” she said in the video’s opening moments. “What came of their extraordinary efforts is a world-renowned destination.”

She was referring to the community effort behind the design of the Third Street Promenade, which opened a quarter century ago this year and brought new life to Santa Monica’s fledgling Downtown.

Today, Downtown hotels and business generate nearly $15 million a year for the City services and the area is home to nearly 4,000 people, a nearly 30 percent increase over 2010, when an estimated 3,075 people lived Downtown.

It’s also home to flagship stores for internationally-known companies like Apple and small businesses like M.i. Westside Comedy Theater, the owners of which received the “Essence of Santa Monica” award Thursday.

Santa Monica’s “Living Room”

While Downtown draws visitors from all over the world, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. CEO Kathleen Rawson said that a recent survey shows that many of those visitors have short trips. Nearly three-quarters of all Santa Monica residents, 72 percent, visit Downtown Santa Monica at least once a month, with the average resident visiting about twice a week. (Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect the accurate frequency with which locals visit Downtown. An earlier version reported that 72 percent visited once a year.)

The Downtown, she said, is “built by and for locals.”

That’s a legacy, officials said, that the City and its partners, like Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., hope to continue for the next 25 years and beyond.