Plans are moving ahead for a 13-lane bowling alley and concert venue in a prominent downtown spot — despite criticism from some opponents who say it’s just a massive bar.
The San Luis Obispo City Council on Tuesday voted 4-0 to deny two separate appeals of the approval of Discovery San Luis Obispo at 1144 Chorro St. Councilman Dan Carpenter recused himself because he owns property near the project.
The decision means the 25,210-square-foot project located in the former Sports Authority space can move forward, but it will have to close at midnight as the city’s Planning Commission decided in July.
The new facility includes a bowling alley with seven lanes on the ground floor and six lanes on a mezzanine level; a concert venue with a maximum occupancy of 393 people; upper floor and basement-level lounges; and a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. Full food service would be available at all times alcohol is served.
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Several council members disagreed with the assertion from some residents that the venue is simply a large nightclub or bar.
“We need to expand the types of uses and things that people can do downtown — we need to be able to do more than shop, drink and eat,” Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said. “For me, the attraction is not that it will be in a central part of downtown but that it will have a wide number of uses.”
Councilman Dan Rivoire said maintaining a vibrant downtown is essential to attracting a variety of people there.
“I think it can create a more vibrant culture that meets the needs of growing businesses and young professionals and will provide a different type of entertainment,” he said.
San Luis Obispo residents Sandra Lakeman and James Lopes, who appealed the project on behalf of the grassroots group Save Our Downtown, wrote that the allowed uses seem to be in pursuit of making downtown into a permanent “party place.”
“If allowed, this project would be the largest drinking place downtown, with occupancy for 1,118 patrons,” Lopes said Tuesday.
The council also denied an appeal filed by Jeremy Pemberton, managing partner of Discovery San Luis Obispo, to stay open until 2 a.m. The Planning Commission had decided the business should close at midnight.
More than 30 people spoke about the project Tuesday night, with speakers split fairly evenly on both sides of the debate.
Those opposed, including some Save Our Downtown members wearing signs reading, “No More Bars,” argued that the number of bars in the new facility, the long lines of patrons it would draw, the parking impacts and the size of the project are incompatible with the downtown area.
“We are encouraging more residential (development) downtown while at the same time encouraging nighttime recreational space for a bunch of drunks,” resident David Hannings said.
Those in support said the project would bring an exciting new use downtown.
“This specific proposal is something that brings my wife and I — and with bowling, my daughter — downtown,” Morro Bay resident Greg Finch said. “Without live music we don’t come downtown, certainly at night.”
Others said they supported the concept but thought the facility should be scaled down. To those comments, Pemberton said the 13 bowling lanes alone take up 10,000 square feet.
“I’m in favor of the overall project concept but the sheer size of the project concerns me,” said Todd Brown, general manager of SLO Brewing Co.
And while numerous Save Our Downtown members raised concerns about the number of alcohol-serving businesses downtown — there are currently 66 alcohol licenses, with the vast majority being restaurants — at least one local bar owner/operator shared similar concerns.
“I think that the entertainment growth downtown is great, but I’m concerned about the proliferation of the amount of liquor licenses,” said Ron Meier, who co-owns several bars downtown.
The council did make some modifications to the conditions on the project. Most notably, the council required Discovery San Luis Obispo to provide a way to walk to a set of bowling lanes without passing through or next to an unenclosed bar area.
“Would there be some way that not just children but minors could access the bowling and gaming activities without necessarily going by or being part of the bar scene … so that it really is more family-friendly?” Mayor Jan Marx asked.
She suggested a condition prohibiting the facility from selling alcohol on its upper level, but did not receive support from other council members.
The council also required the applicant to close the outdoor patio seating by 11 p.m. and ensure all windows and doors are closed by 10 p.m.
The 24,500-square-foot building at the corner of Chorro and Marsh streets most recently housed Sports Authority but has been vacant since that business moved in 2012.
Pemberton plans to increase the size to 25,210 square feet by adding space to an upper-level mezzanine. He hopes to open around March 1.