SANTA MONICA—Plans to modernize the historic Fairmont Miramar hotel—a coveted oceanfront property at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Ocean Ave. on the Santa Monica bluffs—are moving to Coastal Commission approvals after a greenlight from the city late in 2020.
The proposal by developer Athens Group, with an estimated cost of $500 million, offers a progressive triple play: union jobs, affordable housing and more community space. It will also aim for LEED Platinum status for environmental standards, and historic preservation—some parts of the complex date to its founding 100 years ago.
That was enough to please the Santa Monica City Council, and groundbreaking could occur in 2023.
In a 4-2 vote, councilmembers praised the influx of desperately needed revenue and affordable housing.
Proud Partnership with Labor
The project will generate about 3,000 union jobs under a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.
“The Miramar is proud of its partnership with labor,” said Dustin Peterson, a representative for Athens Group. “We look forward to working with the talented men and women of the Building Trades to implement our vision for this new Santa Monica landmark.”
The project signals that the city is open to investors.
“As the Covid pandemic comes, we hope, to an end, we will see more than ever the need for robust tourism, and the building that supports it,” said Ron Miller, Executive Secretary of the LA/OC Building Trades Council. “Smart developers who see the wisdom of working with a skilled and trained union workforce will come out ahead.”
In a time of increasing pressures and labor disputes in the hospitality industry, Miramar is further signaling its commitment with a promise to keep the hotel staffed union. An agreement with Unite HERE Local 11 offers all staff members the choice of a “generous severance package” or the right to be recalled to their job, and keep their health insurance when the hotel closes for construction.
The redesign includes construction of two new mid-level buildings, in a sleek and transparent style, along with preservation of the existing Palisades Building, which dates to the 1920s.
Preservation, Creation and Equity
When complete, the compound will nearly double in size, to include 312 new hotel rooms, 18,000 square feet of commercial space, and up to 60 condos, as well as public spaces, parking and a separate affordable housing building.
Together, the 4.5-acre site will host more than half a million square feet of mixed-use space.
The developer’s addition of an entire, nearby property dedicated to affordable housing—42 units, around two-thirds of them two- and three-bedroom, family-sized apartments—is especially appealing.
Renderings of the redesign show a 14,000-square-foot Public Garden Terrace. This expansive lawn and walkway will be open to the ocean vista and centered on the massive, landmarked Moreton Bay Fig Tree that sits at the hotel’s current entrance.
“With 42 new, family-sized affordable apartments, an array of compelling publicly accessible spaces for the community to enjoy, and the preservation and creation of union jobs, economic equity is an integral component of our plan,” Peterson said.
Miramar’s outreach team has held hundreds of meetings with thousands of stakeholders, modifying the plan several times to reflect community input.
A local homeowners association has since filed a lawsuit, alleging violation of the Downtown Community Plan, coastal land use rules and the California Environmental Quality Act.
Miramar representatives counter that the proposal is fully compliant with the city’s General Plan and the Downtown Community Plan, and the City of Santa Monica maintains the lawsuit’s claims are without merit.
The California Coastal Commission does have to sign off on the makeover. The earliest start date for construction would likely fall in mid-2023, representatives said. That will keep the Building Trades busy for 33 months, with the reopening sometime in 2026.