Grover Beach might not be a sleepy bedroom community much longer, according to Mayor John Shoals.
“We want to be a young, hip city, giving people opportunities to live near the beach,” Shoals said.
For several years, the city has been working on a series of large projects that would update the face of the small South County beach town and attract a new, younger population. Many of those projects are just now beginning to become a reality.
From street rehabilitation to the designing of the Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center, here’s a quick look at what’s happening in Grover Beach right now, as well as what other changes could be in store.
The biggest ongoing project in the city this year is its road repairs.
“It’s been a huge year for roads,” Shoals said.
In 2014 voters approved Measure K-14, which allowed Grover Beach to sell about $48 million in bonds to pay for repairing the city’s crumbling roads. Since then, the city has completed major work on stretches of Brighton Avenue, Nice Avenue, South Seventh Street, Oakpark Avenue, Saratoga Avenue and North 13th Street. The city also simultaneously conducted other minor repairs and slurry seals on more than 60 blocks in town.
Going forward, the city is going to be working on its next phase of streets: Newport Avenue, Longbranch Avenue and Third Street.
Shoals said the city likely will start discussions this month on traffic calming and increased safety measures, in light of a late-night crash Aug. 27 that killed one person and injured another as they walked in a crosswalk at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Seventh Street.
“I think it’s time for us to take an earnest look at how can we improve the circulation system,” he said. “Because with smooth streets, people are going to be speeding. So we need to find ways to not only improve safety, we need to enhance the appearance of the streets as well.”
Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center
But design work is now underway for both portions of the project planned for the end of Grand Avenue, with development expected over the next two years.
RRM Design Group is working on construction drawings for the 150-room hotel, Shoals said. Those are expected to be submitted to the city for building permit approval by next August.
The city has also hired CRSA Architecture to refine the conference center’s design.
The 9,000-square-foot building will feature meeting spaces between 400 square feet and 1,500 square feet that could be partitioned off to make smaller or larger rooms as needed. It will also feature a 1,500-square-foot courtyard that could be used for events.
With the latest redesign, the center is expected to cost $5.4 million, compared with its previous $6.2 million estimate, Shoals said.
The opening date for both the lodge and conference center is expected to be early 2019, though the city hopes it will be earlier, in late 2018.
As part of the center and lodge construction, the city also will demolish and redesign a plaza at the end of Grand Avenue next to the beach to make it more of a showpiece, Shoals said. The plaza could also be used for mobile concessions.
“Someone could come out with a cart and rent boogie boards or sell hot dogs — I don’t know,” Shoals said with a laugh.
Overall, the entire project — lodge, conference center and plaza — is expected to cost $45 million to $50 million, he said. It is a joint project between the city, State Parks and San Diego-based Pacifica Companies, with each funding a portion of the costs.
Shoals said the price tag is well worth the eventual benefits to the city.
“Once this project is up, people will start investing in Grover Beach and start building projects,” Shoals said. “It is important that we be successful and get this built.”
Transit station expansion
Another major update long in the works for Grover Beach is the transit station expansion project.
The project would expand the Amtrak station at the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Highway 1 and relocate bus loading and unloading facilities so that all activities happen on the same side of the track. Relocating the bus depot would also make it more easily accessible to the South County Transit Authority for use as a stop.
Parking may also be increased by about 40 spaces.
“I think a lot of folks are just thrilled that they won’t have to come in on a bus and take their luggage and roll it across the train tracks,” he said.
The expanded station would also feature an entrance that is slightly farther from the highway and has more lighting and possibly more businesses nearby such as a car rental or wine tasting rooms that would bring more activity to that end of the city.
“The vision is that all that area down near the train station, behind Rib Line and all that, it would be great to have some mixed-use development — get some people living down there,” Shoals said. “Maybe something similar to what they’ve done in Santa Barbara, where they’ve taken these industrial areas and converted them into these pretty cool locations to wine taste. That’s exciting.”
The city is still negotiating with Union Pacific Railroad and San Luis Obispo County over leasing some of the land, but in the meantime, the project has been assigned to Rick Engineering Co. for preliminary design work.
“Right now the goal is to be under construction by the end of the year,” Shoals said.
The ripple effect
With the trio of large long-awaited projects finally coming to fruition, Shoals said he expects other developments will soon be underway.
“We’re really thinking this investment on the part of the city will help spur private investment elsewhere,” he said, particularly along the Grand Avenue corridor.
“The vision really is to have that fill out, to get more people living down there, because folks can then walk over to the train station, take a ride to Santa Barbara and back, hop on a bus or walk to the beach,” he said. “I think that is going to be the focus down there.”
Shoals said he also envisions hip restaurants, tech businesses and condos with ocean views popping up throughout the city, acting as an incentive for a new crowd to take up residence in Grover Beach.
A new business sector could also boom in Grover Beach, he said: marijuana cultivation and sales (also known as “green business”).
In light of a state initiative potentially legalizing recreational marijuana in November, the city has taken a strong stance in support of allowing green businesses to set up in Grover Beach.
“It’s not just me, but the entire council has stepped up and said, ‘We want to look at this as a growth industry, and not as the sinister thing that some people paint it out or characterize it to be,’ ” Shoals said.
City staff are working on a series of land use ordinances that would help regulate where both recreational and medical cannabis could be grown, distributed and sold in the city. Shoals said it is unlikely marijuana businesses would be allowed along Grand Avenue; instead, the city is looking into other areas where those businesses would “be better suited,” he said.
Grover Beach voters will consider a measure on the November ballot that would tax marijuana-related businesses in the city.
If the measure passes, and if the city updates its ordinances, Grover Beach could be looking at about $1 million to $2 million in new revenue annually, Shoals said.
“For a city with a general fund budget of less than $10 million, that’s pretty significant.”