Grover Beach moves ahead on new conference center project

After many years of planning, the Grover Beach City Council has taken a decisive step toward bringing a conference center to town that would be the largest between Monterey and Santa Barbara.

The council unanimously approved a coastal development permit for the Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center last week, in the hope that the facility would draw more tourists and increase revenue to the city.

The project would include a 150-room hotel, 11,000 square feet of conference facilities and a restaurant to be built on about 13 acres at Highway 1 and West Grand Avenue next to the beach.

“This is finally moving this project forward,” City Manager Bob Perrault said. “It’s a big step for us and brings it a lot closer to reality.”

City officials have been talking to the state about the idea since the early 1980s. The project — a joint effort between State Parks and San Diego-based Pacifica Companies — would also improve public areas, including boardwalks, picnic areas, beach access, concessions and equipment rentals.

The Pismo State Beach Golf Course and Fins Restaurant would remain. So would some parking for horse trailers — which have long been able to park in the dirt lot just off West Grand Avenue — although the size and location would change.

The city had hoped to provide an equestrian parking area in a 0.8-acre area West of Grand Avenue, but the California Coastal Commission nixed the idea in April. Now, Perrault said, the plan is to put a small parking area on the project’s southeast corner.

He’s also been talking to the county about developing a parking area near the Oceano Airport, which would provide direct access to the beach.

The next step, Perrault said, is to complete a financing agreement with Pacifica Companies, which in 2008 was selected to design, construct and eventually oversee the lodge and conference center’s operation.

At the end of a 50-year concession contract, which is valid starting the first day of operation, the state would control the property.

The city has agreed to complete a number of public improvements, estimated to cost $6 million to $7 million, including the equestrian staging area, a new putting green, street upgrades, putting some utility lines underground and the conference center.

The city plans to use some money from specific utility and water funds to cover as much as $1.5 million of the cost. The rest would be covered by Pacifica and repaid to the company with bed tax, sales tax and other revenues from the lodge after it opens, according to a June 2012 staff report.

Perrault estimated the project could bring at least $550,000 in revenues annually to the city’s general fund after the reimbursement to Pacifica is complete in about 15 years.