Downtown SLO development proposed around historical Fremont Theatre

A rendering of the proposed building that would wrap around the Fremont Theater and span Monterey Street to Higuera Street.
A rendering of the proposed building that would wrap around the Fremont Theater and span Monterey Street to Higuera Street.

San Luis Obispo developers are working on a proposal for a major mixed-use project that could infuse new life into a slice of downtown near the historic Fremont Theatre.

Rob Rossi and John King have proposed Fremont Square, which would redevelop the buildings that make up 1009-1025 Monterey St. west of the Fremont Theatre. The project also encompasses a block of Osos Street and part of Higuera Street with a renovation of the existing Sperry Flour building.

If it moves ahead, Fremont Square would change the character of a prominent area in the heart of downtown, located across the street from the county courthouse and next to the County Government Center.

It is also one of several projects — proposed and approved — that will reshape downtown San Luis Obispo for years to come.

The city of San Luis Obispo has not yet received an application for the project, said Doug Davidson, deputy director of development review. A 30-day review process would take place after an application is received, he said, and then planners would determine which city advisory bodies need to consider the plan and how soon it could be placed on agendas.

Rossi said he’s had conceptual meetings with some city staff but plans to submit a formal application Monday. He hopes to get the project approved this fall and begin construction next year, around the same time as the Motel Inn boutique hotel development.

A few blocks away, construction is underway on the retail and residential Chinatown project on Monterey Street near Mission Plaza. Later, an adjacent hotel on Palm Street will break ground.

SLO Brewing Co. is moving from its Garden Street home to Higuera Street later this year to make way for the Garden Street Terraces project, 93,425 square feet of commercial, residential and hotel space.

And the proposed San Luis Square project includes three new four-story mixed-use buildings with restaurant, office and retail spaces and at least 48 residential units in the area best known as the longtime home of Foster’s Freeze at Marsh and Nipomo streets.

The Fremont Square project sits on 24,026 square feet, with the first floor encompassing 19,400 square feet, according to plans provided by the developers. The proposed five-story building is a total of 86,765 square feet and would consist of a mix of ground-floor retail, with residential units and office space on the upper floors.

Rossi declined to disclose the estimated cost of the project but said, “No doubt it’s going to be substantial.”

Rossi said the top floor would be residential units with a restaurant — the drawings show a terrace and roof deck. The second through fourth floors could be a mix of residential units and office space, referred to as “flex space” in the plans.

“We’re building the building so it’s convertible,” he said, “so that at any time, we can plug in different uses on different floors.”

Rossi envisions about 40,000 to 45,000 square feet of office space, which could be divided among multiple tenants. He said several local technology companies already have expressed interest in becoming tenants but declined to discuss whether he has agreements with any particular companies.

“We have a number of interesting tech companies that want to be downtown,” he said. “The concept is: You build it, they will come. Within months of approval, we’ll have final leases on the whole thing.”

Ample bike facilities would be provided, as well as space for electric cars and a recycling center.

A sticking point could be the height of the project, which would stand at 75 feet. If that height holds, the building would be among the taller structures downtown.

The county government center is 65 feet tall, the city parking garage at Palm and Morro streets is 80 feet at its tallest point and the Court Street shopping center is 54 feet tall. In addition, the Anderson Hotel on Monterey Street is 65 feet at the parapet and 90 feet at the top of the bell tower, according to past Tribune stories.

Garden Street Terraces was proposed at four or five stories high, with the tallest point reaching 74 feet, in early stages of that project. But it was revised so that no portions of the project will reach more than 50 feet, and the buildings are no more than four stories tall.

“It is a large building, and it may bring some discussion of proper heights,” Rossi said of Fremont Square.

The maximum height limit in the downtown commercial zone is 50 feet, according to the city’s zoning code, but the Planning Commission may allow a maximum building height of 75 feet if the project meets at least two policy objectives such as affordable and workforce housing, pedestrian amenities, historic preservation or energy efficiency, among others.

Rossi said an assessment of the building was done by Andrea Pease, a principal at San Luis Obispo-based In Balance Green Consulting. The developers hired her to see whether the building would meet city and green building standards, Rossi said, and it scored 120 out of 120 points.

As part of the Fremont Square proposal, the building along Monterey Street that contains Mission Cinemas, Qué Pasa Mexican Cafe and Aisuru (formerly Shin’s Sushi) would be torn down and the new five-story one would replace it.

Meanwhile, the old two-story Sperry Flour building — which houses Woodstock’s Pizza and Mo’s Smokehouse BBQ — would be retained and restored. Those two businesses are expected to stay in their existing locations. There are also two empty storefronts along Osos Street where lettering reading “World Gym” and “Z Pie Gourmet Pot Pies” can still be seen.

Woodstock’s is working on its own plans to expand and remodel the interior of the longtime business, assistant general manager Jaime Sterling said.

“We have no plans to shut down other than for a remodel,” she said. “Maybe they could coincide.”

Rossi said he hopes he can work with Aisuru and Qué Pasa to relocate. The plan also calls for some open space, with a public market and a courtyard.

Aisuru general manager Jiwon Kim said he hadn’t heard much about the proposal but thought it was a good move to redevelop one of downtown’s gateways.

“I think the development is good for the city, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to this place,” he said.

Business has slowed the past few years, which he attributed to the restaurant’s name change and more eateries downtown.

Mission Cinemas is no longer managed by Sanborn Theatres, but Rossi said the theater is still used for small teaching groups, the local film festival and special showings, but no regular showings.

The Fremont Theatre would also receive some improvements, Rossi said, such as bathroom and seating upgrades. Currently, the venue features movies and live performances.

“We want to see it be the grand lady that it is,” he said. “We hope it can serve a multitude of purposes in the future.”