Santa Monica, which is generally known for strict zoningguidelines, has lifted restrictions to help spur economic activityand support re-opening restaurants. The City adopted proposedchanges from non-profit Downtown Santa Monica Inc.The changes include an alcohol exemption, converting restaurantspace or vacant space into an alternative use and permitting foodhalls on the Third Street Promenade and in other areas of thecity.

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Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. has been evaluating the economicstate of downtown and particularly the beloved Third StreetPromenade as a part of the "In order to adjust to the modern retailworld and to reduce the barriers to entry for new businesses, weproposed a set of policy changes to the City of Santa Monica,"Andrea Korb, economic development manager,Downtown Santa Monica, tells GlobeSt.com. "After COVID-19 hit, weworked with the City to turn these proposals into a broader packageof zoning changes for both the Promenade and the rest of SantaMonica's commercial districts to support economic recoverythroughout the City. If there is a silver lining to COVID-19 it isthat we were able to move quickly with these changes, thanks tosupport from our City partners, who recognized the importance ofsupporting our local business community through the challengingcircumstances ahead." The new guidelines specifically targetrestaurants and nightlife establishments, which have beenparticularly hit hard by the pandemic and required closures."Restrictions have been lifted, new uses are permitted, andentertainment is now allowed in places it was previously limited,"says Korb. "This will make it easier for new businesses to enterthe market, allow for more varied uses and more creative use ofground floor space, and help businesses thrive. We hope this willbring more life and excitement to Downtown."

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While COVID-19 was certainly a catalyst for these changes, inmany ways they were already needed. Downtown Santa Monica Inc. hadalready been working on a way to reimagine and reinvest in theThird Street Promenade to adapt to new retail and consumer needs."Prior to COVID-19, margins were already slim for the restaurantindustry in California and Santa Monica," says Korb. "By removingrestrictions and allowing restaurants (and on the Promenade, anyestablishment that serves food) to sell more alcohol, stay openlater, and provide more entertainment, businesses will have abetter chance of not just surviving, but thriving." However,restaurants aren't the only businesses that will benefit from thechanges. "Other changes better allow for uses we are seeing more oftoday, such as boutique fitness studios, breweries, and makers'spaces, and keep the door open for novel uses we haven't seen yet,"adds Korb. "There are also adjustments to allow ground floor spaceto be more flexible, reflecting the current desire for smallerretail spaces and allowing for lower-cost alley-fronting space.This will also make it easier to build out ground floor lobby spaceto service upper floor office."

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As of now, these are temporary adjustments, but there will be anopportunity to make them permanent. "These changes are beingimplemented as Interim Zoning Ordinances, which means that SantaMonica City Council can decide whether to keep them in place for upto five years, after which point they may be incorporatedpermanently into the zoning code," says Korb. "We hope to use thistime to observe the impact of these changes and to continue to workwith the City on a number of other policy improvements to supportthe local economy." While it has only been two weeks since thechanges were implemented, already the business community issupportive. "We have heard incredibly positive feedback from boththe business community and the local real estate community," addsKorb. These improvements have been a much-needed bit of good newsin these challenging times."

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Kelsi Maree Borland

Kelsi Maree Borland is a freelance journalist and magazine writer based in Los Angeles, California. For more than 5 years, she has extensively reported on the commercial real estate industry, covering major deals across all commercial asset classes, investment strategy and capital markets trends, market commentary, economic trends and new technologies disrupting and revolutionizing the industry. Her work appears daily on GlobeSt.com and regularly in Real Estate Forum Magazine. As a magazine writer, she covers lifestyle and travel trends. Her work has appeared in Angeleno, Los Angeles Magazine, Travel and Leisure and more.