After some debate, the Atascadero City Council unanimously approved a measure on Oct. 8 that will open the upper rotunda and first-floor conference rooms of the recently renovated City Hall to rentals for private parties.
The council’s debate mainly revolved around whether the intention of the measure is to play host to 30-plus events per year and make money, or to only a handful and serve as a cost-neutral public resource.
Ultimately, council members couldn’t agree on the intention and approved a “soft opening” that allows a maximum of two events per month and will be subject to prompt fiscal assessment from city staff.
“This building is owned by the people, and it’s great to see that we’re opening it up to the people,” said Councilman Bob Kelley. “We have to put this in motion and see what the demand is.”
The measure was ultimately approved 4-0, with Mayor Tom O’Malley—who owns a competing bed and breakfast—abstaining. Weekend rentals of the upper rotunda (for a maximum of 10 hours and 110 guests), will cost $3,500 per day for nonprofits, $5,000 per day for Atascadero residents, and $5,500 per day for non-residents.
According to the staff report, those prices were designed to fit in with “local market value for similar venues.” Among the venues picked for comparison were San Francisco City Hall, Pasadena City Hall, and Hearst Castle.
For now, the city staff will be managing the rental process while the city determines the strength of rental demand and comes to a consensus on what frequency of private parties is appropriate. The ultimate goal, the council agreed, is to have either a neutral or positive impact on the city’s general fund.
Audrey Banks, the pavilion coordinator for the Community Services Department, said that if the city decides to commit to a higher frequency of rentals, they would need to hire a part-time or full-time event coordinator to manage logistics. The suggested yearly salaries for that coordinator position are $28,000 and $80,000, respectively.
Banks also mentioned that two security guards must be hired for the duration of any event in order to protect the building. The cost of the two guards is included in the base rental fee, but larger events with more than 100 guests will require additional guards at the renter’s expense, she said.
Banks said she’s already received some rental inquires from Atascadero residents, but none from outside the city thus far.
The City Hall, which was damaged in the 2003 San Simeon earthquake, re-opened its doors on Aug. 20, 2013 after undergoing extensive renovations.