Atascadero’s ideal downtown

In Atascadero’s ideal downtown, key gathering places and businesses are linked by pedestrian-friendly pathways. Such a vision is laid out in its downtown revitalization master plan adopted about a decade ago.

While many of the plan’s ideas are still conceptual, a pedestrian footbridge project over Atascadero Creek could be complete in a year. The project also features a plaza, walking trail and creek restoration.

Renderings of the approximately $1.6 million bridge and plaza project, now in the design phase, show people strolling between downtown’s Sunken Gardens and the new Colony Square. The footbridge will stretch from East Mall over the creek and into the shopping plaza.

The Atascadero Redevelopment Agency will fund the work, while the trail is funded with a $420,000 state grant that also goes toward other trails in town. If the state dissolves redevelopment agencies, the project would be in jeopardy and may not go forward. If the agency remains, construction could begin as soon as summer 2012 to be ready for Atascadero’s Colony Days celebration that October.

The little plaza is planned for the bridge entrance off Sunken Gardens. It could feature a decorative statue — possibly of Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis — as well as flowers and benches. Options will ultimately go before the City Council for public comment this November, including what the plaza should be named.

The new trail would stretch from Lewis Avenue to El Camino Real along the top slopes of the creek to showcase a restored natural corridor. Replanting native species and creating habitat areas are involved. Some of that work has already begun.

City officials are excited the bridge plans are coming together in time for Atascadero’s centennial in 2013. The City Council approved the downtown revitalization plan in 2000 after planners held workshops with the public to gather ideas.

The improvements are based off public and private investments that staff say would help develop concepts into actual projects.

“It’s an economic revitalization to bring more people, business and investments into the downtown,” Community Development Director Warren Frace said.

The plan’s showpiece projects already developed include Colony Square and the new Rite Aid development off Morro Road.

Street safety and other projects have also led the effort, which the city has phased in since 2003. Landscaped medians, nicer sidewalks, decorative streetlights, benches and other improvements are now seen in and around the commercial core. That effort is wrapping up with new light posts and decorative sidewalks on the Atascadero Creek Bridge over El Camino Real.