Cayucos became quieter when its Vets Hall closed in 2016. Now, its residents and San Luis Obispo County staff are trying to upgrade the building for a much-awaited 2023 reopening.
Greg Bettencourt is one such concerned resident. He said that the Vets Hall was the town's social hub.
"It's the center of our town. If you move to Cayucos, and you're brand-new, that's how you meet people. You go to something that's happening at the Vets Hall," he said.
Bettencourt belongs to a fundraising group called the Restore Cayucos Vets Hall Committee, which was formed over the summer. When the hall shuttered because of structural issues, residents were told that it would be restored by 2018.
"The timeline got extended again and again. Our committee feels that it's not only timely but essential that the community gets involved and contributes to getting the Vets Hall restored," committee member Sherry Sim said.
- Photo Courtesy Of Cayucos Lions Club
- A LONG WAIT Ever since the Vet's Hall closed in 2016, Cayucos residents and SLO County officials are hoping the Board of Supervisors passes the remaining $3.5 million needed to renovate it.
The county Public Works Department leads the rehabilitation project, and they're working to acquire the majority of the estimated $5.4 million cost. In 2019, the California Natural Resources Agency awarded the county with an almost $2 million grant to refurbish the Vets Hall, which is a designated historic site. The Board of Supervisors was supposed to consider passing the remaining $3.5 million as repayable bonds at its Sept. 28 meeting, but the agenda item got postponed to Nov. 2. Bettencourt thought the delay was due to an internal recommendation from county staff to better prepare the supervisors on the topic.
Sim said that time is of the essence.
"The $1.8 million to $1.9 million grant is good till 2023. However, building needs to begin soon, to capitalize on this grant. It's likely that an application would be made to extend the $1.8 to $1.9 million grant to 2025," she said.
The committee has a two-pronged goal with the fundraiser: to prove to supervisors that there is strong community support and need for the hall, and to use the donations to pay off the $3.5 million bond if the board grants them the money. The committee's long-term aim is raise $500,000. Sim said they had received 104 pledges worth $100,000 in total by Sep. 20. She also mentioned that local nonprofit organizations and private donors provided another $150,000.
With fund approval proving to be a slow process, could the Board of Supervisors be hesitant?
"Lots of people are hesitant to have government spending more money than somebody thinks is appropriate. We're trying to convince the board that this is money well spent because the hall is going to be able to repay the debt, and the hall makes significant money for the county and the community," Bettencourt said.
SLO County Parks and Recreation Director Nick Franco thinks supervisors would only be hesitant because of the current economic climate ravaged by the pandemic.
"They would want a better picture of what's the overall county's financial health and what's the projection for the next five years, and that's kind of a hard projection to do when things are still unstable right now," he said.
Parks and Rec plans to help manage the Vets Hall once it's up and running. Presently, Lions Club volunteers look after it and occasionally rent out the available outdoor space for barbecues, according to Vets Hall Facilities Manager Breck Smith. He told New Times that the Lions Club was paying utility bills even though the closed hall brings no income. The hall's closure combined with COVID-19 also forced Smith to lay off his only full-time employee.
Franco said that Parks and Rec took over payments for utilities that cost a "couple of thousand dollars a month."
"Once it's open, we'll figure out a way to work with the Lions Club so that they can be the on-site presence but we're going to take that revenue and pay off the cost of the restoration," he said.
Franco hopes that the new-and-improved building would operate primarily as a wedding venue that pulls in gross revenue around $200,000 a year for the Vets Hall. This amount would also be used to pay off the $3.5 million bond.
It's a major leap from the $40,000 that Smith said the hall used to bring in before the closure, the lion's share of which was funneled into scholarships and donations.
Franco mentioned that the upgraded hall would also improve the county's coffers through transient occupancy taxes.
"For Cayucos, this is very, very important. We get asked about the status all the time because it is essentially the heart of Cayucos. It is a critical part of the community," Franco said. Δ