An overhead view of Bergamot Station Arts Center with the project area outlined in red (image from Rethink/KOR Group proposal)
An overhead view of Bergamot Station Arts Center with the project area outlined in red.

The City Council Tuesday night will set the guidelines for an advisory committee that will help shape the future of Bergamot Station Arts Center and city officials want to make sure that younger residents have a voice in the process.

Staff is calling for a committee, which will be charged with advising developer Jeff Worthe on the redesign of Bergamot Station, to be composed of nine people, including at least one resident under 40 years old.

While about 25 percent of Santa Monica’s residents are between the ages of 20 and 35, they are consistently underrepresented in public meetings (the city is making an effort to get Santa Monica’s young adults more engaged). Having a requirement for at least one person from that age group to help plan the redesign of this site, which, aside from being a major arts center, is also one of three Expo Light Rail stations in the city, would certainly be a step in the right direction, albeit a modest one.

The requirements for the group, however, won’t be final until the Council votes on them on Tuesday. The committee could also include tenants of Bergamot Station, including the art galleries and the Santa Monica Museum of Art, as well as representatives of the business community, a resident of the nearby Pico Neighborhood, and another resident who is a regular rider of the Big Blue Bus.

“Based on the guiding principles, project-specific guidelines are recommended to help staff, the Worthe Group, the Advisory Committee, stakeholders, and members of the public understand the Council’s expectations for the future of the Arts Center,” according to the staff report.

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“Understanding the Council’s guidelines for the Bergamot Arts Center revitalization process is important as the Arts Center has the potential to serve a variety of community goals, including continued fine-art sales, integration of broader cultural uses, amenities for transit users, a permanent home for the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and provision of funding that allows the Big Blue Bus to continue to offer excellent service with low fares,” the report reads.

The biggest change to the area will come when the Expo Light Rail begins service to Santa Monica, likely in the first quarter of 2016. Staff estimates about 3,000 riders a day using Bergamot Station to get on and off the train.

“The site is in need of basic infrastructure improvements, such as well-managed connections through the site to facilitate people walking, biking, and connecting to buses, as well as providing shelter and amenities for people visiting the Arts Center as well as those who will be connecting to the many new bus routes that will serve the station,” according to the report.

The six-acre site, owned by the city, is currently a surface parking lot surrounded by about three dozen art galleries and arts-related nonprofits, including the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

The committee will be in charge of collaborating on a plan that walks the careful line of preserving the current uses while providing the site with desperately needed upgrades.

One of the main issues is how to pay for the ongoing subsidy the city gives to the galleries in the form of reduced rents. It’s that subsidy that has allowed many of them to stay in business for so long, but it’s clear that the city can’t keep it up without generating more revenue from the site.

“Everyone wants to maintain the galleries, but there is a cost,” Councilmember Tony Vazquez said at the September meeting during which the Council chose Worthe’s team to lead the redesign.

As a result, staff is proposing that whatever future desings for the site, it must “maintain and increase” the $622,000 the city gets a year for rent “over time in order to provide a consistent revenue source for the Big Blue Bus.”

On Tuesday, the Council will vote on how to move forward with the advisory committee, as well as who should be represented on it. The complete staff report is available online here.