New owner revives plans to develop La Plaza property in Atascadero

The vacant La Plaza site on El Camino Real in Atascadero.
The vacant La Plaza site on El Camino Real in Atascadero.

The long-undeveloped La Plaza property in downtown Atascadero is getting a new owner and a revamped vision for its future.

Mike Zappas, an Atascadero developer who also owns Las Lomas Village and Hidden Oaks Village, last week closed escrow on the 1.49-acre site from the Ben Hoff family. Zappas will pick up where previous developer Larry Wysong left off on the property, which is across from the Sunken Gardens near El Camino Real and Entrada Avenue. Zappas declined to say how much he paid for the property, citing ongoing negotiations on other sites.

“It’s very unusual for an acre and a half to be available downtown,” Zappas said in a phone interview.

The Atascadero City Council in 2013 approved Wysong’s plans for the La Plaza Downtown Retail Center, which was to include three two-story buildings with 26,500 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space. The plans were the latest floated to develop the site, which has been largely vacant since 2009, when North County Christian School’s thrift store burned down.

A 2010 plan to build a 10-screen movie theater on the site also never came to fruition because a Galaxy Theatres location had been approved nearby.

Like Wysong, Zappas said he plans to build a mix of retail, dining and office space at the La Plaza site. But he said he wants to expand the project and is in escrow to buy the now-closed Jack in the Box next door and the 0.34 acres the restaurant sits on. Zapas said his development plan includes making the buildings three stories instead of two.

Early plans for the development include one- and two-bedroom apartments on the top floor, with retail and a mix of dining options on the bottom levels and potentially room for office space, Zappas said. The redesigned development will still need to go through the Design Review Commission, the Planning Commission and likely the City Council, he said.

The project will probably take eight months to a year to get off the ground, Zappas said: “We have a lot of things to do — it’s not like it’s going to be overnight.”

Zappas said he wants to honor Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis’ original 1917 Mercantile/La Plaza building, which served as the community’s first shopping center and was the namesake of previous developments slated for the site. He said he’s excited to help contribute to the revitalization of downtown.

“I feel honored to be able to bring a quality project to town that references our past,” Zappas said in an email.

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