Debate over Centennial Square plan lingers in Arroyo Grande

Before a packed City Council chamber, Arroyo Grande officials tried Tuesday night to allay concerns about the proposed Centennial Square, which would improve city facilities, create new commercial property and build a pedestrian plaza in the Village.

“We believe very strongly that this is an important opportunity for the community, and one that won’t be available in the future,” City Manager Steve Adams told more than 100 community members.

The city started working on the proposal about two years ago to address a shortage of space in its city offices and promote economic development and tourism in the Village while maintaining the historic downtown’s character.

“This is another step in making it (the Village) a tourist destination,” said Nan Fowler, an Arroyo Grande resident who supports the proposal.

More recently, some residents have expressed opposition to the project — dedicated to the city’s Centennial Celebration in 2011 — which would close part of Short Street between East Branch Street and Olohan Alley.

One Arroyo Grande architect created an alternative plan to present to council members that would keep Short Street open while still building a pedestrian plaza and retail space.

Under the city’s plan, San Luis Obispo-based NKT Commercial, a property developer, would sell the city the office building at 300 E. Branch St. in exchange for the Conrad House, the 1950s-era city Building Department office and the parking lot between the buildings.

That building, at 208 E. Branch St., would be restored, and NKT Commercial would construct a 5,700-square-foot commercial building in the area of the current parking lot and 200 E. Branch St.“This is a treasure of a village,” said Nick Tompkins of NKT Commercial. “In our case, we are not trying to replicate something, we are trying to improve on what is here.”

The city would pay about $1.2 million for the building at 300 E. Branch St., which Adams said the city is proposing to pay for with a low-interest federal loan.

Adams estimated that Centennial Square would cost about $250,000, which would be paid for by a combination of $70,000 in donations, a $70,000 grant and $110,000 in park development funds.

By press time on Tuesday night, the council had not taken any action.

While the closure of Short Street has become a sticking point for some Arroyo Grande residents, others took a wider view of the project.

“It’s not going to be long before we have to upgrade these city offices, so the time to invest in the community is now,” said Judith Bean, president and CEO of the Arroyo Grande Chamber of Commerce, who passed out stickers that read “Yes! Centennial Square” before the meeting.