I’ve had my issues with Atascadero and its love affair with every bargain outlet and fast-food joint known to the greater civilized world.
I’ve also been annoyed for years at how the city has squandered its premier community asset by allowing dentists and insurance agents to occupy so many of the prime business locations fronting Sunken Gardens, collectively killing any chance to create a cohesive downtown centerpiece that can generate buzz and foot traffic throughout the day and evening.
But the North County’s red-headed stepchild is on the upswing with a visible push to get more “there” there than has been there in many years.
The most recent action has been on the proposed pedestrian bridge, which would link City Hall and Sunken Gardens to Colony Square and Galaxy Theatres.
Along with its pretty plaza and walking trail along the creek, this bit of infrastructure is a key component in unifying the two areas and making them friendly to retail development.
It’s the kind of thing Atascadero needs to do more of, taking civic ownership of its crown jewel and directing how that area should be used.
It also is very much the kind of forward-thinking leadership role the city must take if it hopes to eventually create a vibrant city core like those in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
Along with physical improvements, the city has embarked on an aggressive campaign to create new events that will draw people to Atascadero.
In February, the city debuted its Tamale Festival to such large crowds that many who turned out went home hungry. Last weekend brought the St. Patrick’s Day-themed Tater Day event to Traffic Way. Brew at the Zoo is set for April 30, and on May 7, the inaugural Central Coast Cider Festival will take place at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion.
If these kinds of events grow into annual successes, they can become a valuable draw on some of those quiet weekends, especially during the winter.
I applaud Atascadero for seizing this opportunity and for pursuing creative ways to elevate its status among the various diverse and unique cities in San Luis Obispo County.
As it develops further projects, especially in regard to tackling the difficult issues surrounding city planning, Atascadero should speak with a strong voice and be unfazed by naysayers.
Come up with relocation incentives and start knocking on those office doors near City Hall. It’s long past time for the offices to move out to the Highway 41 corridor. If they don’t want to listen, come back the next day and the day after that until they get tired of the visits.
Appeal to their sense of civic pride, and if you need to take them on a guilt trip, just make sure to show up with a big enough van to fit the whole lot.
Finally, listen to the public but be constantly vigilant that they may not have the scope or vision this city needs now, like the resident who addressed the council on the bridge plans and saw the span as little more than a connection from nowhere to nowhere.
The problem is, if Atascadero succumbs to that mindset, it will never get anywhere. Nowhere is just where it will stay.