HR&A Launches a New Online Public Engagement Tool

Santa Monica Rolls-Out a Breakthrough for Informed Participation.


On January 31st, the City of Santa Monica unveiled a first-of-its-kind online planning tool that will help decide the fate of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (Civic) and its surrounding 10-acre site, which the City aspires to transform into a mixed-use arts and cultural campus. The tool, designed jointly by HR&A and software developer MetroQuest, solicits input from citizens and stakeholders to reimagine the future of the Civic and its site through a user-friendly, online interface. Translating HR&A’s real estate, operational and financing analysis into this interactive format helps the public to better understand development tradeoffs and the City to include many voices in the planning process.


The Civic is a 58-year old historic landmark that used to host the Academy Awards and large concerts, in addition to community events. In June 2013, the City closed the Civic due to the loss of Redevelopment Agency funds needed to rehabilitate the facility, which today would cost an estimated $100 million. In October 2013, the City Council appointed a Civic Working Group (CWG) to lead a community planning process and advise the Council about options for the Civic and the site, with the assistance of a multidisciplinary team led by HR&A.


To support the community planning process, HR&A partnered with MetroQuest to design an interactive tool that allows users to share their complete vision for the Civic and its site. HR&A led a team of consultants (John Kaliski Architects, Cultural Planning Group, and Sam Schwartz Engineering) to research and analyze the numerous real estate and operating assumptions and implications underlying the decisions available in the tool, which tracks land use choices across four indicators: amount of land used, parking required, construction costs, and net operating costs.


Over 100+ participants who attended the two-day community workshop on the future of the Civic and its site used the tool on iPads, which enabled attendees to match their planning aspirations for the site with available funding options. Participants, including those who can access the tool online for two weeks after the workshop, are able to try different approaches to filling the site with cultural, open space and private land uses and to match the resulting selections with associated financing options to pay for both capital and net operating costs. In doing this, the tool demonstrates the land use and financial tradeoffs associated with funding new cultural and open space uses on the Civic site through both private on-site real estate development and other public and private sources, such as taxes, bonds, and philanthropy.


During the workshop, the results were analyzed in real-time such that it was possible to share the input gathered that day with the full group of participants. The tool helped the CWG and the City’s Cultural Affairs Division to collect and share perspectives from a larger group of stakeholders than is the norm at public workshops. HR&A will continue to support the CWG in analyzing the public’s feedback and designing implementation recommendations to the City Council for the iconic Civic and the mixed-use arts and cultural campus it is planned to anchor.


Find more information about the project at the City’s website. Read more in The Santa Monica Mirror and The Santa Monica Dispatch. For any questions regarding the tradeoff tool, or its development process, please contact Remy Monteko at