YWCA / KIMPTON PROJECT
Today, Pasadena’s historic Civic Center, along with its grand civic buildings, includes underutilized public spaces, languishing landscape, confusing traffic patterns, and an acre of concrete in front of our most distinguished historic monument, City Hall. A new hotel could introduce the opportunity to save the historic but vacant YWCA building, bring new activity to the civic heart of Pasadena, and improve the overall quality of place. Pasadena Heritage has been involved in exploring such an opportunity for more than five years.
This FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) summary is intended to help Pasadena Heritage members and others understand this major new project proposed in the Civic Center, our position, and the process going forward.
- WHAT IS THE YWCA + WHAT IS THE NEW PROJECT?
- IS THE PROJECT A GOOD FIT FOR THE HISTORIC YWCA?
- WILL THE PUBLIC BE ABLE TO GO INSIDE THE HOTEL COURTYARDS AND USE ITS AMENITIES?
- HAS THE NEW DESIGN BEEN FINALIZED?
- DOES THE PROJECT DESIGN CONFORM TO THE HISTORIC BENNETT PLAN?
- IS THE CITY GIVING AWAY PUBLIC LAND?
- WOULD THE OPEN SPACE ACROSS FROM CITY HALL BE LOST?
- WILL THE ROBINSON MEMORIAL BE RETAINED AND RESPECTED?
- WAS THE PUBLIC INFORMED ABOUT THE PROJECT AND ITS DESIGN?
- HAS THE CITY BEEN MAKING DECISIONS "BEHIND CLOSED DOORS"?'
- WHAT DID THE PLANNING COMMISSION RECOMMEND?
- WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
- WILL THERE BE MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE PUBLIC TO LEARN ABOUT AND COMMENT ON THE PROPOSAL?
- WHAT IF I CAN'T ATTEND THESE MEETINGS - CAN I STILL SEE THE DESIGN PROPOSALS?
- DOES PASADENA HERITAGE SUPPORT THIS PROJECT?
- WHICH VERSION OF THE PROJECT DISGN DOES PASADENA HERITAGE SUPPORT?
- WHAT ARE OTHER PRESERVATION GOALS PASADENA HERITAGE HAS IDENTIFIED FOR THIS PROJECT?
WHAT IS THE YWCA + WHAT IS THE NEW PROJECT?
The former YWCA building is located 75 N. Marengo in our Civic Center Historic District. It was designed by well-known California architect, Julia Morgan, and built in two consecutive phases, from 1921-1923. Since 2008, it has sat vacant.
The City acquired the property through eminent domain in 2011. As planned when the building was acquired, the city sought a development partner for the property’s re-use through an RFP process (Request For Proposals). Kimpton Hotels’ proposal was selected by a review committee from a variety of applications, most of them proposing hotel uses. Their proposal was chosen for adapting the site as a boutique hotel, and for their track record of having done this successfully with other historic buildings. Kimpton’s proposal included the rehabilitation of the existing historic YWCA and the construction of new hotel rooms where there is presently a parking lot, across the street from our monumental City Hall.
IS THE PROJECT A GOOD FIT FOR THE HISTORIC YWCA?
Yes. A new use for the old building is urgently needed to rehabilitate it and return it to active use. The YWCA building was originally designed for a very similar use, meaning that it can function as a hotel with very few interior changes. The existing building will be rehabilitated and restored while a new hotel wing will be constructed immediately adjacent to the historic building, along Union Street.
A hotel in the Civic Center would create a new destination; bring increased activity both day and night; bring more visitors; and add beautification, a restaurant, meetings rooms, event spaces, and courtyards to the Civic Center. As a result, the area would have more pedestrian traffic, be more attractive and feel more welcoming and safe.
WILL THE PUBLIC BE ABLE TO GO INSIDE THE HOTEL COURTYARDS AND USE ITS AMENITIES?
Yes. The hotel project would have multiple entrances, with the original front door of the historic YWCA on Marengo serving as the hotel’s main entrance. A restaurant/bar and coffee station will be open to the public. A second major entrance at the corner of Holly and Garfield streets, with views of City Hall, will lead into the interior courtyards. Two event spaces and meeting rooms would also be created in the gym and pool wing.
HAS THE NEW DESIGN BEEN FINALIZED?
No. It is still early in the official “design review” process. Drawings in the EIR and other approval documents are preliminary only, showing what the building might look like in a general way. There remain extensive public hearings with opportunities to comment on and influence proposed designs for the new building to ensure the best and most compatible one is approved.
DOES THE PROJECT DESIGN CONFORM TO THE HISTORIC BENNETT PLAN?
Yes. The 1925 drawing of the Bennett Plan illustrates a “future building site” east of the YWCA building, across from City Hall. Several Civic Center plans have been developed over the past 39 years and all anticipated that new buildings would be built on this site AND also on the site across Holly Street to the north, forming a symmetrical layout in front of City Hall.
The footprint of the proposed alternative 2A with modifications would fall within the footprint outlined on the Bennett Plan drawings. Pasadena Heritage believes that the proposed project is compatible with and further realizes the vision of the Bennett Plan.
IS THE CITY GIVING AWAY PUBLIC LAND?
No. The City owns the YWCA building, which it acquired nearly eight years ago with the goal to save the neglected historic building. Long vacant, it was deteriorating and needed to be secured and stabilized. The City also owns the vacant area to the east of the YWCA building, currently a parking lot and open land. Both the existing building and a portion of that open land will be leased to Kimpton Hotels for hotel use – it will not be given away nor sold. Under city code, a long-term lease must be evaluated in the same way as a sale and so the term “sale” is used in some city documents. But the land will NOT be sold, and the city will remain the owner.
WOULD THE OPEN SPACE ACROSS FROM CITY HALL BE LOST?
Yes, and no – it depends on which design concept you are talking about. For example, the “EIR Project” differs significantly from the other alternatives studied in the EIR, and would remove nearly all of the open space. Pasadena Heritage did not support this design. Alternatives in the EIR and other, more recent revisions, retain more of the open space and respond to combined feedback from the public and various Commissions.
For example, the EIR Alternative 2A showed a thoughtful building plan that retained half of the existing landscaped area AND added landscaping in the area now used for parking in addition to introducing a coordinated landscape design for the entire Centennial Plaza. This includes the open space area across Holly Street to the north and achieves a symmetrical, well-defined, grand civic area with a balance of buildings and garden spaces, including the Sister City trees. It also would improve the confusing traffic patterns and ill-defined expanse of concrete in front of City Hall. Other alternatives leave more open space along Garfield, but stack the building volumes higher and higher to still achieve what is described as an economically viable project.
WAS THE PUBLIC INFORMED ABOUT THE PROJECT AND ITS DESIGN?
Yes. The RFP was available to all who were interested and/or wanted to respond with a proposal. After Kimpton was selected, two early conceptual drawings were created and discussed with the Design Commission at three public hearings, with the Planning Commission at two public hearings, and with the City Council at two public hearings. The purpose was to gather public feedback early on and begin a dialog with the many parties and Commissions from the start.
Based on feedback on those early concepts, and on interest from community organizations most concerned about the site, a working group was formed. Over several weeks last summer, Kimpton’s design team hosted an in-depth look at historical, economic, urban design, and transportation issues surrounding the site. Through these lengthy and informed discussions, further conceptual designs were explored. Several of these were included as alternatives studied in the environmental analysis (sometimes referred to as “CEQA” or “EIR”).
Pasadena Heritage held the very first meeting about the future of the former YWCA more than five years ago at the First Baptist Church with tours of the Julia Morgan building. We have regularly updated its members and e-news subscribers of public meetings, our comments and concerns, and revisions to the project as they emerged.
HAS THE CITY BEEN MAKING DECISIONS "BEHIND CLOSED DOORS"?
Yes, and no. The process has been open and the project has been widely discussed at multiple public meetings. However, the City Council has discussed the property leasing terms in closed sessions as is customary in order to retain its negotiating power. Such “exclusive negotiations” are common practice in such situations. The design and zoning reviews have all been public, during public hearings. Additionally, the Kimpton design team has independently sought input from established stakeholder groups from time to time, including Pasadena Heritage and the Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association, and the project has changed and been refined throughout the process.
WHAT DID THE PLANNING COMMISSION RECOMMEND?
The Planning Commission reviewed the final environmental analysis (FEIR) and a variety of Use Permits (hotel, off-site parking, alcohol sales, etc.) at its meeting on July 13. After a thorough presentation, many public comments, and a long discussion among the commissioners, the Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the FEIR and Alternative 2A to the City Council, with two strong additional recommendations. One was that the Council should approve the smallest possible project that would be financially feasible and that the Design Commission should have as much latitude as possible it directing the final design. View and download the Planning Department’s Staff Report and extensive Attachments here: ww5.cityofpasadena.net/commissions/planning-commission
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The project will likely come before City Council on Monday, August 15. The Council will consider city staff’s and the Planning Commission’s recommendations, the certification of the FEIR, and all of the necessary permits and proposed conditions. Updated documents prepared for the City Council will be available on the City’s website the week before the Council hearing.
WILL THERE BE MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE PUBLIC TO LEARN ABOUT AND COMMENT ON THE PROPOSAL?
The City Council meeting is the last step in the overall project approval process. If a project is approved by the Council, it will then go through a thorough Design Review process including public hearings later this year.
WHAT IF I CAN'T ATTEND THESE MEETINGS - CAN I STILL SEE THE DESIGN PROPOSALS?
Yes, and no. The Commission and Council Agendas are posted online, along with a Staff Report summarizing the project background and City Staff’s recommendations. However these documents do not include any current plans (for copyright reasons). To view plans, renderings, or the applicant’s design review submission, one must visit the Permit Center and request these in person.
Although the Draft EIR document included small renderings of the multiple alternatives studied in the environmental impact assessment (available on the City’s website [cityofpasadena.net/ywca], these are all conceptual design ideas and do not reflect the actual design of the project, which is still to come.
DOES PASADENA HERITAGE SUPPORT THIS PROJECT?
Yes. We support a version of this project that addresses our historic preservation goals for the former YWCA building and the Civic Center. We also fully support the Planning Commission’s additional recommendations.
WHICH VERSION OF THE PROJECT DESIGN DOES PASADENA HERITAGE SUPPORT?
We have not and do not support the first version of “Project” as proposed in the EIR – instead, we have supported Alternative 2A with modifications that would make it more compatible with the existing historic YWCA building and City Hall. This design best reflects the Bennett Plan, best respects the original YWCA building, and achieves the smartest use of open space.
WHAT ARE OTHER PRESERVATION GOALS PASADENA HERITAGE HAS IDENTIFIED FOR THIS PROJECT?
The former YWCA building must be rehabilitated in keeping with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, and any new use should be compatible with the building’s original design and utilization of space. Connection points of new construction with the Julia Morgan building deserve careful study and analysis to assure as little change or damage as possible to existing historic fabric.
Any new building in the Civic Center National Register Historic District must be worthy of this historic place and be of the highest quality in both design and materials and respect the overarching Bennett Plan.
The project should enliven, activate and enhance the civic heart of the City.
The City of Pasadena should realize a reasonable return on its investment to acquire the building, and the long-term success of the project is important not only for the developer and the City’s finances, but for the historic Julia Morgan building, the Civic Center and the city as a whole.