The Atascadero City Council acted responsibly last week when it stood by an earlier demand for a feasibility study on the prospect of two 10-screen theaters within the community and almost one block from one another.
I know none of them wanted to deny a conditional use permit that would have allowed three local men to construct a 10-screen theater and other commercial retail spaces along a portion of El Camino Real from Traffic Way to the Atascadero Creek bridge.
This area of downtown certainly needs to be improved, and the La Plaza theater project would accomplish that, although I think it is a misuse of term to called the area “blighted.” We don’t even know what blight is here in Atascadero, except for a loose reference to not-so-pretty buildings.
I am against eliminating the height restriction along the street where the second theater would go because it would block the view of downtown from the freeway. The council has already made it clear it will waive that restriction, along with some parking requirements.
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The three principals connected with the proposed La Plaza development, Larry Wysong, John Rouse and Michael Sheerer, are all good men. It is the potential of a second major movie theater that is the worry here and the reason they haven’t been granted that permit.
I share the council’s concern that the construction of a second 10-screen theater in Atascadero would put both theaters (the Galaxy Theatres is about half completed) in financial jeopardy. I’m not sure you need a professional study to determine that.
Most studies end with a recommendation for more study, anyway.
But after reporting on this community for almost 40 years, my concern about having two theaters is that we just don’t have the theater-going population to support them both. Atascadero is not a strong retail center. It never has been and never will be. As much as city officials and other civic leaders hate me saying it, Atascadero is a bedroom community. I have long maintained that the majority of the residents here are satisfied buying their goods and services outside the city. Most of them work outside the city, but they love living here.
And people outside the city won’t come to Atascadero. Those south of us believe all intelligent life ends at the top of the Cuesta Grade. Paso Robles, only seven miles away, has a strong retail presence to the north of us. Atascadero was artificially inserted between these two centers 97 years ago.
I don’t think the axiom “build it and they will come” works in Atascadero.
A movie theater isn’t a structure you can change into anything else if it just doesn’t work out.
I applaud the council’s caution in considering this conditional use permit.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. He can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.