EDITOR’S NOTE: Alfredo Diaz is the co-owner of Revolver, a bar at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Larrabee that he and his business partner opened two years ago.
Last night I stood at the City of West Hollywood’s Community Development meeting to object to a proposal to approve the opening of Cooley’s, a large establishment that will face Santa Monica Boulevard and West Hollywood Park.
My objections to Cooley’s are not based on whether or not David Cooley is a good guy or how great the Abbey is or what both have done for West Hollywood. My concern is about what Cooley’s will become in the long run, about whether the “conditional use permit” the city has granted Cooley’s to open as a restaurant will dictate what it becomes in the future. Once granted, that permit will remain with the site on which Cooley’s be built, regardless of who the tenant and operator are.
My objections also aren’t about my fear of Cooley’s competing with Revolver, the bar a block and a half away that my business partner and I reopened two years ago. There are currently more than 20 places that serve alcohol within a three-block radius of Revolver. Naturally, each and every bar will see a drop in business as people choose to try out a new place when it opens. Yes, new bars mean that the customers of the existing bars and restaurants will be further divided and distributed, resulting in decreased revenue for some of us. How much of a decrease, how long will that last and who will be affected? That no one can say.
I will be the first to admit the plans for Cooley’s are aesthetically pleasing. However that alone does not make the project worth the automatic approval the city gave it Tuesday night. As nice as the design is, Cooley’s proposed floor plan creates outdoor space for commercial use that directly affects the nearby West Hollywood Park and the surrounding residential neighborhood in a way not seen anywhere else in the country.
Allowing Cooley’s to open a 3,000-square-foot patio overlooking the park creates a precedent for all the businesses along the park to do the same. It doesn’t take much imagination to foresee the impact a handful of noisy bars would have on a space that has been created as an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
The argument that most of the noise will be limited to the nighttime is a gross under assessment for two reasons. First, David Cooley’s nearby Abbey enjoys robust daytime business, and so would Cooley’s because they are similar in size and scope. Second, sound travels further and seems louder at night without the ambient noise created by daytime activity. That’s especially true in a park that lacks structures to absorb the noise.
Cooley’s over-sized restrooms and a bar area disproportionate in size to its own kitchen are vibrant red flags as to the future business SBE intends to operate there. I wouldn’t doubt that Cooley’s and SBE will be applying for modifications to their conditional use permit to allow them to offer live entertainment and dancing and stay open after 2 a.m. It is liquor sales, and the relatively high profit margin that comes with that, that will generate the revenue necessary to pay for operating in a space that covers what once was three storefronts.
As a gay man and a West Hollywood business owner, I have serious concerns about the direction Boystown is headed in its development. Will the placement of Cooley’s on Santa Monica Boulevard near Robertson cannibalize the gay customer base of the nearby Abbey, making it an even straighter venue than it currently is? There isn’t an infinite supply of LGBT residents and visitors to sustain two such mega businesses, not to mention proposed nearby venues such as P.U.M.P. and The Horn. Will these large businesses alter the demographics of the area—making it less gay—or will these businesses crush themselves under the weight of their own square footage?
Having the right tenant mix on Santa Monica Boulevard is crucial for all of the businesses there to thrive. The vast majority of those businesses opposed to this project, and I suspect that once nearby residents are made fully aware its impact on the park they will feel the same.
Cooley’s may be beautiful, but it is a bad idea for our neighborhood.