County Seeks Grants to Fix Vet’s Hall; Build Imagination Park

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

October 8, 2021

San Luis Obispo County is applying for grants to hopefully move along three nagging parks projects that are ready to go, but lack funding for construction.

At their Oct. 5 meeting, Supervisors were asked to allow the Parks and Recreation and Public Works Departments to apply for “Regional Park Program” (RPP) and “Rural Recreation and Tourism Program” (RRTP) grants to move forward with the Jack Ready Imagination Park in Nipomo; construct the Morro Bay to Cayucos Pathway along Hwy 1; and to rebuild the Cayucos Vet’s Hall. 

They also, on Sept. 28, approved applying for a $200,000 grant from the Coastal Conservancy for the Vet’s Hall project, which appears to be a lock, though the money for the other three grants is a competitive process with just $23 million available statewide for both the RPP and RRTP.

The RPP grants are “to create, expand, and improve regional parks,” the staff report said. “Projects will create at least one, new, recreation feature that attracts visitors from at least a 20-mile radius or county-wide population to a regional park.”

The RRTP grants are to “create new recreation features in support of economic, tourism, and health related goals. Projects will improve the health of residents and attract out of town visitors.”

All of the projects are designed, permitted and ready to go.

The Jack Ready Imagination Park, slated for a vacant parcel in Nipomo, is being spear-headed by the family of the late-Jack Ready. Jack’s aunt and uncle, Nicholas and Kathleen Tompkins, donated a 30-acre parcel for the park in 2005. 

The Imagination Park will be fully accessible for people with disabilities and has been the driving force for the non-profit, Jack’s Helping Hand, formed by Ready’s parents after their son died.

While raising money for the park, the Ready’s have handed out numerous grants to agencies that serve the handicapped and helped in countless ways people with disabilities.

If they get the grant, the County said it would be used to build a playground, group picnic area, horseshoe/bocce ball courts, a pedestrian trail and concrete pathway.

The Morro Bay-Cayucos connector project will build a segregated bike and pedestrian path on the west side of Hwy 1 running along the beach bluffs and connecting the two towns. It would also become part of the California Coastal Trail.

“This multi-use pathway would extend from Cloisters Park, in the City of Morro Bay, to Norma Rose Park, in the community of Cayucos,” the County report said.

(Norma Rose Park is another bit of unfinished business for the County. The little park, which has been approved but not funded, is slated to be built below the cemetery where the dog park is now.)

The Cayucos Veteran’s Memorial Hall project has heated up in recent weeks first with the formation of a citizen’s group to raise money in support of the project and now with the two grant applications. 

The Vet’s Hall has been described as the heart of the Cayucos community and is the place where various private celebrations and community events are held, from the Sea Glass and Portuguese Festivals, to fundraisers for fireworks, and public meetings. It’s been closed over 5 years.

“In May of 2016,” the County report reads, “and after a structural investigation of the facility, the building was deemed unsafe to occupy and was closed indefinitely as a precautionary measure.”

Some repairs have been made. “The kitchen, museum, and conference room spaces were made available for use in 2017 after completion of a temporary shoring project to stabilize the structure. The State Fire Marshall has since prohibited the use of the entire building by ‘red tagging’ the structure in July 2021.”

Originally built in 1876 by Capt. James Cass, the vet’s hall was originally a warehouse and part of a thriving export business that was the hub of the community for decades. Because of this historic status, it brings in a lot more agencies that have to review the project and restrictions on design that are intended to preserve the historic value.

The County hired Studio Design Group to draw up plans for rebuilding the Vet’s Hall. All permits have been obtained and the County said, all they need is construction money.

The RPP has a maximum grant request, per park of $3 million and a minimum grant request per park of $200,000, the report said. There is no matching funding requirement.

The RRTP also has the same maximum award and a minimum grant request per park of $200,000. There is a catch. “A 20% match is required if the project site’s area has a median household income above $56,982 according to the ‘Community Factfinder’ tool. The requested grant application funding amounts will be determined once the project scopes are finalized, taking into consideration matching funding available.”

Supervisors previously approved applying for a State Coastal Conservancy grant for $200,000 and it looks like they’ll have the Conservancy staff’s support. They’ve also applied for Proposition 68 monies for the Vet’s Hall project.

The Vet’s Hall project’s “steering committee,” the County said, “includes members from the County Departments of Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Administrative Office, and Real Property Services, and California State Parks.” 

And somewhere in there will be the “Cayucos Vet’s Hall Committee” (see: www.restorecayucosvetshall.org), a group of citizens that recently formed to raise money to help with the Vet’s Hall project and to show Supervisors how much they want the building repaired and reopened.

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