Looking for an escape? San Luis Obispo is closer to getting an adventure-themed "Escape Room" business downtown, though additional construction hurdles remain.
The City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday, with Councilwoman Andy Pease dissenting, to permit later hours of operation than the Planning Commission originally approved.
San Luis Obispo Escape Room, to be located in the mixed-use Marsh Street Commons at 583 Marsh Street near McCarthy's Irish Pub, will be open until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, an hour later each day than recommended.
"We need more things for people to do," Mayor Heidi Harmon said. "We need to be offering people a lot more experiences in this community and in the downtown in particular. Where it is in the city, it seems like it would be a huge draw."
The Escape Room plans to host groups of customers who enter a themed room and then use teamwork to solve a series of puzzles, uncover clues and crack the case within an hour.
Challenges could include pirate, missing-person and detective themes.
The Escape Room won't involve actors, and the rooms aren’t actually locked or meant to frighten anyone, business owners say. The rooms are designed to fit a theme, and ambient, background sounds help set the mood.
Brian Lacertosa, CEO of BCR Developments, LLC, the Escape Room's parent company, said the time frame for opening is in six to eight months, though it could be later depending on the construction process and noise abatement required by the council.
The council's decision approving later hours included two conditions — a requirement for the business owner to pay for a professional study to assess and implement noise reductions before occupancy and a prohibition on using amplified sound.
Lacertosa said high costs associated with those conditions, such as relocating ceiling sprinklers, could be a deterrent, and a slim chance exists that he could walk way from the plans.
An estimated $150,000 to $200,000 is needed to fix up the space before opening, Lacertosa said. He said he has spent $20,000 thus far in the planning process.
"I don't want to over-promise anything," Lacertosa said. "I'm 95 percent confident we'll be open this year. But if costs become too prohibitive, like if we end up having to install a drop ceiling for noise abatement, that could be a deal-breaker. As of now, we're within our budget and excited about opening in San Luis Obispo."
Residential neighbors fear patrons' screams, music or loud sound effects could bother them.
"It’s a nice business but totally the wrong location," said Robert Spector, a Marsh Street Commons resident. "It will create an unreasonable disturbance for the neighbors — not just when they’re inside playing the game, but when they’re hanging around outside, before and after."
Lacertosa argued escape rooms rely on later hours when customers are off work or choosing their weekend entertainment, and he said no amplified sound is used.
Vice Mayor Carlyn Christianson said she previously lived downtown above the Hands Gallery on Higuera Street, where residents should expect some noise.
"Residences downtown differ from residences elsewhere," Christianson said. "That’s the point of being downtown. It’s noisy. I lived in the downtown for six years. That’s what downtown is."
Pease voted in favor of heeding the neighbors' concerns with the suggestion of adding later hours if the business proved to be quiet enough for area residents.
"Yes we absolutely want downtown to be a cultural hub, but we also want housing downtown," Pease said.
Jamila Haseeb, CEO of Apexx Consulting, said in public comment that she believes the business will serve companies well as a "fabulous tool" for team training and development.
"I’ve heard time and time again there are too many bars in the downtown, too many restaurants," Haseeb said. "People say 'Why can’t we have any other businesses?' Well, guess what? Merry Christmas. Here you go. Here’s one such project."
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