We are all too familiar with the shams so many developers use that leave our communities with shiny new hotels and broken promises. Faring Capital’s Robertson Lane project is an example of a glitzy hotel development that is getting massive special development favors from the city but offering precious little in return. The West Hollywood City Council should reject it because the developer plans to tear down large portions of a building it claims it’s “preserving”, has no guaranteed plan to tell the full history of the location, and because the project risks repeating the mistakes of the past by not doing enough for our City’s diverse communities.
The warning signs that something was wrong with this project started early on. Three senior members of the preservation committee, including its chair, expressed serious reservations about Faring Capital’s “preservation” plan for the Factory building, the site of the famous Studio One Club. Those committee members who voted against the project doubted that the proposed hotel would still meet the criteria to be an historic structure after the Mitchell Camera Company Factory building is demolished and a portion of the remaining materials are used to build a new structure as a pair of retail shops. Read for yourself in the city’s Final Environmental Impact Report. [see attached images] You can’t demolish a building and call it historic preservation after such a complete and total change. If the developer planned an adaptive reuse of the original building that would be one thing, but tearing down over half of the Factory and then claiming to honor its history is corporate doublespeak.
We are in agreement that when we talk about the history of the Factory building, we should tell the full history of Studio One, including the stories of alleged discrimination and the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) protests against the club’s door policies. There is a lot that could be done to tell the story of the GLF and the diverse communities that fought for inclusion in West Hollywood, and we don’t think Faring Capital’s project does enough to tell it. What public art would be displayed and who would be honored? The FEIR requires documentation before demolition, but how are archived photos and a handful of interviews really telling the full story? What scope of archiving will be collected and which voices represented? How will the telling of these stories look in the context of an active retail store shoved into the new Factory building when the floorplans show no site for displaying any of it? How do we make sure that truth-telling is the real focus of the site and not just some window-dressing for a luxury hotel attracting business via sanitized history? The so-called history plan will take place *after* the building is torn down and the new project built.
Most importantly, who will have the power to decide these things years from now. The answers to these questions can’t be left in the hands of a for-profit developer and the City Council shouldn’t put that power in the developer’s hands by approving this project.
One of the best ways we can respect the complex history of the Factory building is learning from it and not repeating its mistakes. There are a lot of questions in the hotel industry right now about its treatment of women, African American, LGB and transgender workers. To allow an exclusive luxury hotel to set the tone on the site of alleged historic discrimination could be deeply troubling. Just a few blocks away in Santa Monica, the City Council pushed back against discrimination and exclusion and for the inclusion of diverse communities by advocating for strong community benefit provisions in development agreements. Subsidized public transit passes; a hotel worker’s $15.37 minimum wage; a 40% local hiring goal for new Courtyard by Marriott and Hampton Inn hotels; Internships for low-income youth; and freely accessible ground-floor public space (page 348) at the new hotel project at 710 Wilshire-just to name a few.
Many recent Santa Monica hotel projects have done far better than a fraction more in TOT revenue (that could be erased by oversaturation and a drop in room occupancy rates) and a ‘promise’ to allow the public to pay to use their parking deck; so why not Robertson Lane?
As our city changes to accommodate the growing tourism industry, the stakeholders in the community should have a voice, from the workers in the hotel and shops, to neighboring businesses, to the residents who are part of the city’s history. This hotel project should be informed by the past, not just using it as a marketing gimmick. The West Hollywood City Council should reject Faring Robertson Lane development because it’s a sham that doesn’t live up to the hype.