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Downtown San Luis Obispo's upcoming makeover

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Downtown San Luis Obispo is on track to keep getting sexier.

As part of an ongoing downtown beautification process, the SLO City Council on Nov. 18 voted to move forward with another block of the “downtown renewal project.” The work will include new Mission-style sidewalks, new tree gates, removing and replacing some trees, new trashcans, new bike racks, and pole painting, among other modifications to the downtown infrastructure.

City officials previously OK’d and finished construction on two blocks of Higuera Street (between Morro and Garden streets) in 2012. However, the city was unable to extend the project as far as originally desired due to insufficient funds, according to a city staff report.

Plans for ongoing downtown improvements were incorporated into the City Council’s major goals for the 2013-15 fiscal years, specifically to “assess and renew the downtown.”

City council members voted 4-0 (with Councilman Dan Carpenter abstaining) to direct City Manager Katie Lichtig to authorize as much as $473,000 for a construction contract. As part of the funding, city officials also issued a purchase order to pre-purchase $35,000 worth of tree gates. The 2012 construction was delayed while the city waited for tree gates to arrive, according to the staff report.

In total, the city expects construction costs to be $585,000, of which $505,000 was set aside from Measure Y, the existing 1/2 percent sales tax soon to be replaced by Measure G, and the city’s general fund. City officials will fill the $79,000 shortfall with Measure Y contingency funds, a $1.7 million fund set in place in case Measure G failed to pass, which it didn’t.

In 2011, New Times reported that the original project ran over the city’s early estimates by about 13 percent. At the time, Councilwoman Kathy Smith expressed opposition to the plans and encouraged other uses for the money. This time around, however, Smith told New Times that she supports the expenditure. The city is no longer in the same financial duress that it was three or four years ago, she said.

“I think our downtown is important to us,” Smith said. “And hopefully it always will be.”

SLO Downtown Association Executive Director Dominic Tartaglia characterized the project as a combination of aesthetic improvements to the downtown, as well as needed infrastructure repairs. Asked whether such improvements might be seen as an attempt to turn the downtown into something resembling Santa Barbara or Disneyland, Tartaglia said the concept is really about “preservation and preserving the economy for local business.”

“I think anytime we can advocate for beautification or downtown renewal, the Downtown Association will be there to at least provide some support,” he added. “We do want to see downtown clean and functional.”

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