A theatre and parking garage will be built downtown as the SLO City Council approved the project with a 3-0 vote Tuesday night.
The 50-foot tall parking structure will sit on the corner of Nipomo and Palm Street, and contain 404 parking spots, 43 electric vehicle charging stations and 32 bike parking spots, according to a staff report. Parking will be available to both visitors and residents downtown 24 hours a day.
The parking structure is estimated to cost $1,581,989.15, and will be funded by the city parking fund and debt financing, according to the staff report. Construction of the theatre will not be funded by the city.
Vice Mayor Andy Pease and Council Member Aaron Gomez recused themselves from the vote because their offices are within 500 feet of the project – which could potentially cause a conflict of interest, according to municipal code.
Some small businesses struggle in the “West End” of the city, and providing parking in the area will attract customers to support these businesses, Council Member Erica Stewart said.
“This [parking] garage, not only will be helpful for current businesses, but to know we can help the economy and future businesses, that makes me really happy to see,” Stewart said.
The new SLO Repertory Theatre (SLO Rep) will sit on Monterey Street behind the parking structure and will include two performance spaces, one of which will be a blackbox theatre.
“I consider this a thrilling opportunity, not only for theatre lovers … but those who enjoy the diverse, artistic life of the city,” SLO Rep Managing Artistic Director Kevin Harris said.
About 30 people spoke at public comment and almost all supported the project. Many meeting attendees wore brightly colored SLO Rep t-shirts in support of the new theatre.
The theatre cannot be constructed without removing the Heyd Adobe, a structure built on the property during the 1930s. To proceed with the project, the adobe will have to be moved or discarded.
The council voted to authorize City Manager Derek Johnson to set aside $100,000 for an outside group to move the Heyd Adobe to another location, which is estimated to cost up to $1 million, according to city planners. Community members have a year to form a group and move the adobe if they wish.
The Heyd Adobe is significant because it was the first adobe of its kind to be promoted with a press conference, and serves as a reminder of the adobe revival, according to local architectural historian James Papp. He said that it should remain onsite, but the council didn’t think it was feasible to do so.
“At this stage, there isn’t a way to do everything we want to do here,” Council Member Carlyn Christanson said. “This isn’t a win-win, this is kind of a win-lose.”
Some speakers at public comment said the SLO Rep is also a part of SLO’s history.
The theatre was established in San Luis Obispo in 1947, and has been providing the city with live theatre ever since, according to SLO Rep board member Ellie Washington.
“The theater is an investment in both our past and our future,” Washington said, as it celebrates the art that SLO Rep has provided the community for decades, and gives the SLO Rep room to grow.
The main stage will include 193 seats, and the blackbox theatre will contain 99 seats. With two stages, the SLO Rep will be able to produce two shows at a time.
The SLO Rep regularly sells out, and the extra seats will allow the theatre to invite more people into their audience, according to Harris.
A larger theatre will also allow SLO Rep to expand their youth theatre program.
“Many of my friends came from tumultuous home lives and they found support, expression and a home through ACT (Academy of Creative Theatre),” said High School Junior and SLO Rep participant Penny DellaPelle. “For everything SLO Rep has done for this community, it greatly deserves this expansion.”
Mayor Heidi Harmon said her daughter performed with ACT as a child, and it had a positive impact on her life.
“I think it’s critical to provide young people with a place to find out who they truly are,” Harmon said. “I’m fully in support of this project.”