Credit: Caitlin Garcia / Mustang News

In a 20-year effort to revitalize the Cultural Arts District in downtown San Luis Obispo, the City recently began progress on a new five-story parking structure.

According to the San Luis Obispo city website, the structure sits on the corner of Nipomo Street between Palm and Monterey Streets where Lot 14 used to reside.

The city began breaking ground on this $52 million project in September and the construction is expected to last until the end of 2025. According to the website, City Parking Services is an independent financial department financing the new parking structure through long-term loans to be repaid through parking revenues.

“Cultural Districts have measurable benefits in enhancing the profitability of surrounding businesses and in attracting a diverse workforce,” Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art Leann Standish wrote in an email. “I’m excited about this focus for all of us.”

San Luis Obispo’s Cultural Arts District contains the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the History Center of San Luis Obispo County, the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum and the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. 

City Engineer Brian Nelson said the Repertory Theatre anticipates attracting over 50,000 people annually and that this parking structure will make the theater and the surrounding businesses highly accessible. 

However, some residents and downtown businesses feel otherwise.

“The city says they’re trying to make [downtown parking] work, but it’s not working,” Palm Theatre attendant Griffen “Merv” Meyers said. 

Meyers said some local businesses are feeling the effects of increased parking rates, a change that resulted from the announcement of the new parking structure.

“People aren’t happy about the changes… and I tend to be skeptical about city planning,” he said. 

During the construction of the parking structure, local residents can expect periodic road closures. Nelson said the city is actively communicating with surrounding residents to keep people informed at each stage of the project’s development. 

Aimed to support local businesses and residents, the Cultural Arts District parking structure will host 397 parking spaces, 41 of which are equipped with electric vehicle (EV) chargers. There will also be 32 new bike racks for safe parking. 

Nelson said the parking structure is designed to support the city’s Climate Action Plan. In addition to the bike parking, solar panels will be installed on the roof to power the EV charging stations.

The renewal of the San Luis Obispo Cultural Arts District was detailed in the city’s 2017 Downtown Concept Plan. The plan described the goal of downtown’s parking structures to create vehicle-free streets. 

Nelson’s goal for the project is that it is completed on time.

 “We have a proven track record of successful building and parking structure projects… as long as [the parking project] keeps going the way it’s going,” Nelson said.