California Coastal Commission Approves Major Renovation for Historic Sears Building

The California Coastal Commission, which is in charge of conducting environmental and public interest oversight of construction and zoning within the coastal region, met in their Port Hueneme conference room on Thursday, March 8. The commission discussed wide range issues, but foremost was their agenda on what to do with the old Sears Building in Downtown Santa Monica.

Constructed in 1947, the classic art deco architecture of the building beckons remnants of an older Santa Monica and is a designated historical landmark alongside City Hall and the Gregorian Hotel. And ever since the Sears store occupying the historic building went out of business last April, it's now also prime real estate. 

The current owner of the property is the Seritage Holding Group, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that acquired 266 Sears properties in 2015. This REIT was formed because many of Sears' stores, such as the 302 Colorado Street location, are more valuable as pieces of property than as operating franchises. As one of their "crown jewel" properties, the Sears Main building is currently under a $50 million renovation.

The planned project is extensive. Proposals include converting the basement and first floor into a mixed food-service and retail area, the second and third floor into office spaces, and expanding the third floor by 7450 ft. The company is also planning to implement a new roof, with extensive open spaces to provide natural light. The building will additionally be brought up to date with current seismic safety codes. 

In spite of these extensive modifications, the project will not alter the architectural or structural integrity of the current building in any way. Exterior improvements have been limited to windows and repainting, and the footprint of the proposed renovated structure is exactly the same. A digital mock-up of the renovations shows that from the outside, exterior changes are almost unnoticeable. 

Though the project was given the go-ahead, the Commission did place four special conditions that must be met. The first condition stipulated that, due to the parking lot being 47 spaces too small for peak summer weekday traffic, Seritage must maintain a parking attendant to "stack" cars when the lot reaches 90% capacity.

The second condition required the building's landscaping be populated with local drought-resistant, non-invasive plants. This condition further required that no herbicides or pesticides being used.

The third condition required all construction materials and equipment be handled, stored, and disposed of in a manner that is not harmful to the local environment. Provisions were instated to prevent any debris or runoff from entering the water table, or flowing out to sea, as well as to protect local wildlife from the process and effects of construction.

The final condition that was approved required that any future developments of the site be independently approved by the Commission unless the Executive Director determines that no new permit is legally necessary.

Plan, Courtesy of City of Santa Monica 

Plan, Courtesy of City of Santa Monica