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Atascadero Printery building will be up for sale at tax auction

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A historical Atascadero landmark in desperate need of some love is about to be up for grabs to developers while a grassroots nonprofit crosses its fingers that no one is interested.

Due to eight years of unpaid taxes by its previous owner, Kelly Gearhart—who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 14 years in prison in federal court last summer—the Atascadero Printery building will go up for a tax auction on May 14. The minimum auction bid is set at $244,000.

FOR SALE:  The historic Atascadero Printery will go up for a tax auction on May 14 with a minimum bid of $244,000. Local nonprofit the Atascadero Printery Foundation is hoping to gain control of the property and raise money to renovate it into a theater and community space. - PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • FOR SALE: The historic Atascadero Printery will go up for a tax auction on May 14 with a minimum bid of $244,000. Local nonprofit the Atascadero Printery Foundation is hoping to gain control of the property and raise money to renovate it into a theater and community space.

“There’s been no efforts by anybody to pay the taxes on it,” said Gordon Eiland, SLO County division manager for Treasury and Tax. “When a property owner doesn’t pay taxes for five years, California law allows the tax collector to sell the property.”

In this case, SLO County is the tax collector. 

The Atascadero Printery Foundation, a nonprofit recently formed by passionate residents, is leading a charge to try to take control of the building and revitalize it for the community. Karen McNamara, the foundation’s co-chair, said the organization has dreams of the landmark becoming a theater, a school for the arts, a community dining area, and a meeting place for nonprofits and recreation. 

“We want this building to belong to the community,” McNamara said. “We want it to be active every single day with things that benefit the community.”

Built in 1912, the printery has served a number of functions in Atascadero over the years, ranging from a community college to a sheriff’s substation, and is in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was heavily damaged in the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, and with its owner shrouded in legal issues, it has been essentially left to crumble ever since.

“It continues to deteriorate, and it’s just a shame,” McNamara said. 

Without the funds to make a bid at the auction, the Printery Foundation made an eleventh hour push to convince the city of Atascadero to protest the county’s sale and enter into a contract with the nonprofit that would pass the cost of the property to them, but the city was unwilling to take on that liability, McNamara told New Times.

“The city of Atascadero has no intent to purchase the [Printery],” the city stated in a press release. “The city fully supports the dedicated efforts of the members of the Atascadero Printery Foundation in their goal of preserving and restoring the printery building to its former grandeur.”

Eiland, the county tax collector, told New Times that the combination of the high costs involved to repair the building as well as the deed restrictions limiting what a developer could do with the building makes the printery a uniquely tough sell. Atascadero estimates that restoration costs alone on the decrepit structure would exceed $9 million. Any purchaser of the printery cannot tear down the building and must get any exterior design changes approved by the city.

“I think that will limit the audience of potential buyers,” Eiland said. 

The Printery Foundation is hopeful that the May 14 auction will come and go without a bidder, allowing the nonprofit more time to raise money and make an offer to the county.

“Right now, we just have to hope that no one bids on it at the auction,” McNamara said. “We’re in hopes that no one believes that this will be a good deal purchasing this building.”

The Atascadero Printery Foundation is accepting donations for their cause. Visit atascaderoprintery.org or send checks to 9965 El Camino Real Suite F, Atascadero, 93422.

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