A new puzzle-solving, adventure-based entertainment business could be coming to downtown San Luis Obispo.
The city has granted a use permit for a proposed San Luis Obispo Escape Room in a 1,900-square-foot business space in the Marsh Street Commons complex at 583 Marsh St.
The business would be located across the street from the Jack House and Gardens and also near McCarthy’s Irish Pub.
Escape Room hubs have opened around the country, where groups, typically two to 10 people, enter a themed room and then use teamwork to try to solve a series of puzzles, uncover clues and crack the case within an hour.
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A separately owned and family-run escape room, The Locked Inn, operates in Grover Beach, but nothing similar exists in San Luis Obispo.
But there’s one hurdle in the way of a potential opening.
Project applicant Brian Lacertosa, CEO of BRC Developments, the parent company of San Luis Obispo Escape Room and seven escape rooms nationwide, is appealing a Planning Commission decision rejecting later hours of operation, until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.
The city has permitted its use until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends, and the City Council will decide the matter on March 20.
“It’s a great, clean family fun activity,” Lacertosa said. “It’s like a really amazing scavenger hunt experience.”
Pending the council’s decision and needed renovations of the space, San Luis Obispo Escape Room won’t be open until summer at the earliest, though no timetable has been set, Lacertosa said.
BCR operates escape rooms in Fresno, Bakersfield, Denver, Bend, Oregon and two in Arizona. Another is under construction in Boise, Idaho.
“Escape rooms are on the rise around the country,” Lacertosa said. “When we built our first one in Denver three-and-a-half years ago, there were about 50 in the country. Now, there are more than 3,000 in the U.S.”
The San Luis Obispo Escape Room wouldn’t involve any actors, and the rooms aren’t actually locked or meant to frighten anyone, Lacertosa said. The rooms are designed to fit a theme, and light background music helps set the mood — a pirate ship sound track, for example.
At Bakersfield Escape Room, guests are challenged to:
▪ escape a pirate ship and find a hidden treasure;
▪ investigate the disappearance of a missing girl after a renowned detective on the case has mysteriously vanished;
▪ and infiltrate a safe house to find a hard drive with the location of a missing MIA agent.
The Marsh Street location is in a mixed-use building with ground-floor commercial space. Other tenants include a furniture store and hair salon.
The second story has 12 residential units, including a home directly above the proposed Escape Room.
Zoning regulations require business hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. to avoid conflicts with residential tenant uses, unless a city administrator grants an allowance. In this case, the city sought to compromise by extending the closing time, though not as late as Lacertosa hoped.
Lacertosa argued at a Dec. 20, 2017, Planning Commission hearing that the viability of the business will depend on keeping later hours when people have free time after work or school to visit. About $100,000 in construction upgrades are needed to make the site suitable for its operation, and the company wants a return on the investment, Lacertosa said.
But some residents argue the noise will affect them.
“My children are typically in bed by 8 p.m., and noise past that hour could be a disturbance,” wrote Patrick Drury, a Marsh Street Commons resident, in a Dec. 18 letter to the Planning Commission.
Planning Commissions, voting 5-1, upheld the city’s permitted hours of use.
The majority felt noise could disturb residents during later hours, while commissioner Ronald Malak, casting the dissenting vote, argued noise could be mitigated and said the business is a good fit for the city.
Building owner Javad Sani told The Tribune that he has had trouble leasing the space because brick-and-mortar retail businesses are struggling in the city, and office use doesn’t make sense because of a lack of parking there.
“As long as (the escape room) fits in the regulatory framework, then there you go,” said Carol Florence, the project’s consultant with Oasis Associates. “At the end of the day, we have to welcome these people because they fit.”