Work on retail portion of SLO's Chinatown project set to begin

Here's an architectural rendering showing the Monterey Street portion of Copeland Properties' Chinatown project.
Here's an architectural rendering showing the Monterey Street portion of Copeland Properties' Chinatown project. Courtesy rendering

The vacant stretch of Monterey Street in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo near Mission Plaza will soon be redeveloped into a two-story commercial hub after years of delay — and 15 years after plans for the development were first unveiled.

Copeland Properties will break ground in January on the retail segment of the Chinatown project that includes 37 residential units on the second floor of the existing historic buildings, as well as 50,310 square feet of retail space and 2,780 square feet of office space. An adjacent 80-room hotel on Palm Street will likely break ground six months later in the summer.

The hotel, to be operated by the Piazza Hospitality Group, will be connected to the apartments, retail and office spaces by a pedestrian plaza at the center of the project.

Clothing retailer H&M recently announced it will open its first San Luis Obispo County location in 2016 as part of the development.

The 20,000-square-foot store will move into a redeveloped space in the 800 block of Monterey Street and serve as the largest of the retail stores in the shopping hub.

Mark Rawson, project architect for Copeland Properties, said he could not yet say what other retailers are planned for the area.

Rawson said he envisions a similar shopping experience at the Monterey Street retail area as at Court Street where stores like Pottery Barn, Sephora and Abercrombie & Fitch are anchored.

“It could be categorized as lifestyle retail,” said Rawson, of the new commercial area. “It is about having the right mix of retailers that compliment each other and the other businesses downtown.”

The residential units will be composed of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments and be located above the three historic buildings. Copeland Properties will lease the units, which are expected to be complete by June 2016.

“Having more activity and lighting along Monterey Street will help ensure downtown stays safe and vital,” said City Manager Katie Lichtig, adding that the project furthers city policies of providing mixed-use development downtown, including retail, housing, and preservation and use of historic structures.

The project will also generate revenue through sales and occupancy taxes, she said, enabling the city to provide the types of services that residents have prioritized.

The Chinatown development was approved by the city in 2009 after years of impassioned debate over its design and height. However, the recession stalled full-fledged development until now.

Rawson would not disclose the project’s costs.

Significant work has already been done behind the scenes, including the seismic retrofit of the three historic buildings at Chorro and Monterey streets that will remain a part of the project: the Blackstone, Sauer Bakery and the former Muzio’s building.

In 2012 the developer also demolished the former Shanghai Low building in the 800 block of Palm Street to make way for a temporary parking lot that will remain available to the public until construction on the hotel begins.

City planner Pam Ricci said final reviews of the development plans required before the city issues building permits for the commercial frontage along Monterey Street are being done now.

Copeland Properties has long pursued the Chinatown development, first approaching the city about a three-stage redevelopment of a significant part of the downtown in 1999.

The first stage involved Court Street, the shopping center along Osos between Monterey and Higuera streets that was completed in June 2005, and the Copeland-built city parking lot and offices at 919 Palm St., completed in June 2006.

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