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Will that downtown SLO bowling alley and concert venue ever be built?

Discovery SLO’s vision: Bowling alley, concerts, food and more — all in one spot

Jeremy Pemberton, managing partner of the Discovery SLO on Chorro Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, talks on April 7, 2017, about what the new entertainment center will look like. Construction is expected to start soon.
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Jeremy Pemberton, managing partner of the Discovery SLO on Chorro Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, talks on April 7, 2017, about what the new entertainment center will look like. Construction is expected to start soon.

The anticipated opening for a long-awaited bowling alley and entertainment center in downtown San Luis Obispo has been pushed back by nearly a year, but the project’s managing partner insists it’s still in the works.

Jeremy Pemberton told The Tribune that construction on Discovery SLO is expected to begin in February with a projected opening in summer or early fall. That news comes after he said last April that construction would begin in time for a completion date before the holidays.

The lengthy delay has led to speculation in the community that the project in the heart of downtown at 1144 Chorro St. won’t come to fruition.

Comments in community-based online forums question whether the developer has “backed out,” whether the project is viable in a high-cost area and why public information about the latest from Discovery SLO has seemed to halt over the past several months.

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The planned future space of Discovery SLO envisions an entertainment center featuring bowling, music, games, food and drinks. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The multi-faceted entertainment center is slated to occupy three floors and feature bowling lanes, a concert hall, a game room including billiards, karaoke, darts and ping pong; dining and cocktails; and more.

Upon completion, Pemberton envisions a thriving new San Luis Obispo attraction, drawing more than 300,000 people a year and musical acts from “every genre out there,” including Willie Nelson, Jeff Bridges, Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos.

The owner of Splash Café, Joanne Currie, told the Tribune last week that she was hoping the new entertainment hub would opened in time to funnel foot traffic to her now-shuttered restaurant in the Downtown Centre.

Currie and her husband, Ross, closed the eatery, one of three they owned in the county, after a five-year lease term expired at the end of the year because of stagnant revenues.

Pemberton said some final contractual hurdles with the landlord and building contractor have led to the delay.

All of the city’s planning approvals for the project remain in place, allowing building to proceed, Pemberton said.

“My group and I are committed to opening a Discovery in San Luis Obispo,” Pemberton wrote in an email. “It’s been a long process but no doubt will be worth it​. We have contingency sites​ available to us but strongly believe downtown and this location will best service ​the community ​and all the stakeholders.”

The project was approved after an extensive city planning process that included an appeal to the City Council by the group Save Our Downtown, which argued that the project didn’t fit with the downtown’s small-scale, mixed-use character.

The entertainment center is planned for a 24,500-square-foot building that formerly housed Sports Authority before it moved to the Madonna Plaza in 2012 (the Madonna Plaza store has since shuttered, as well).

The project is expected to cost about $7 million, which includes the construction, marketing and initial staffing outlay.

Pemberton said that previous plans to begin renovations were stalled as the company — which operates a similar venue in Ventura — worked to negotiate a lease amendment with landlord, Jamestown Properties, a national company with offices in Atlanta, New York and San Francisco.

Jamestown representative Therese Cron said “no comment” when asked about a pending lease negotiation for the site.

Pemberton said that a budget revision was needed and his company paid down some debt to satisfy conditions of a long-term lease with Jamestown.

“​We achieved the known requirements of the landlord to execute a lease amendment,” Pemberton said. “Final review by legal counsel is imminent, and we expect this process to be completed shortly.”

Jamestown has the property listed for lease availability on its website. But Pemberton said he expects to be locked in a long-term agreement shortly. The agreement is expected to last 15 years with three five-year options after that, he said.

Discovery SLO currently pays more than $50,000 per month to lease the vacant Chorro Street building.

“Millions of dollars in expenses and a decades-long lease amendment needed to be resolved,” Pemberton said. “Fortunately, every stakeholder has capitulated and worked together to make this opportunity viable for everyone involved.”

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A planned entertainment hub at 1144 Chorro St. in downtown San Luis Obispo has been abandoned. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The project coordinators also have had to finalize agreements with the contractor, JW Design & Construction, before construction moves forward.

One of the project’s partners, US Bowling Corp., also helped by connecting Pemberton with several developers on the East Coast, where he visited various job sites under development for new entertainment centers. That helped identify ways to reduce building costs for the SLO project, he said.

The business has a California Type 47 liquor license “fully paid for and under escrow,” Pemberton said, allowing the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits at a “bona fide eating place,” which is defined by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as a business facility “used for the regular service of meals to patrons.”

Correction: A previous version of this story didn’t reflect that the entire bowling alley project is planned to be built in one phase.

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