The Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce is doing a series of “Property Talks & Walks” highlighting business opportunities in town that have arisen in some cases due to the coronavirus pandemic response and the business shut downs.
On Nov. 6 a small group of Chamber members and business people visited the empty spaces at 330 Morro Bay Blvd., 360 MBB, and the Bank of America building at MBB and Monterey Street, and Dutchman’s Landing on the Embarcadero, which is working on a remodeling proposal.
The walk was broadcast live on Facebook available through the Chamber website.
Ian Starkie, owner/broker with Rock Star Properties, was on hand to talk about the space at 360 MBB, which has been home to various businesses, most recently a real estate office. It’s been vacant for over 6 months.
The space goes for $2 a square foot, Starkie explained, and is 775 s.f., making the rent $1,500 a month. Inside, the space is a sizable front room (400 s.f.) with an equal sized back room, a small bathroom, and a kitchenette. The hidden gem of the space is a cute little backyard patio protected from the wind.
While it would seem an ideal place to put a vacation rental, considering that it’s in a commercial zone and wouldn’t require a special permit, Starkie said the City wouldn’t approve.
City Community Development Director Scot Graham, who was also along on the walk, said the City frowns on turning ground floor storefronts into vacation rentals, preferring they remain a traditional retail/office use.
“You don’t want gaps in the storefronts,” Graham said. Because it’s 1-story, Graham said there are limitations on re-use of the space. If there were a second story to the building, he said, a vacation rental could go in up there or an apartment.
Ironically, many years ago, someone proposed a 2-story building on that site with residential upstairs, and a storefront plus a public restroom downstairs, something the City had been trying to get in the Downtown core for years. The project met with citizen opposition and was denied.
Starkie noted that the space comes with dedicated parking in the Bank of America lot. “Most places on the Boulevard,” Starkie said, “don’t have their own parking.” He said it could be a good space for a new business just starting up.
The tour moved up the street to 330 MBB, the former home of Rio Salon, which has been empty for several months after the tenant moved into a new space in Cayucos. The 1,800 s.f. space is owned by Ken McMillan, of Distassio’s Italian Restaurant, which is down the Boulevard at the corner of Shasta Avenue. Horizon Real Estate owner, Lorraine Sterkel, is managing the property, which is for lease now.
It’s a somewhat strange space, as several small rooms have been framed in that used to have massage therapy and other beauty services.
McMillan said he sees possibly turning the space into an indoor arts & crafts mini-mall, creating a series of 400 s.f. spaces for artists to sell their work. The space is $2,200 a month.
McMillan said when he bought the building, which has two apartments on the second floor, the idea was for the space to become a working area for locals not for tourists.
Graham gave some information on the Bank of America space, one of the largest buildings in the Downtown area with by far the largest parking lot. The bank was closed when B of A consolidated its operations in a new building in Downtown San Luis Obispo.
Graham said the company is working on installing ATMs possibly at the Sinclair gas station, and once that’s done, they will put the property on the market.
The property is a mix of zoning, Graham said, with commercial up front and mixed-use to the rear on Pacific Street, so the possibilities are plentiful, and the City considers this a key site for the town’s future economy.
Towards the back and above on a second story, Graham said, there could be residential. “The City Council is interested in that,” he said, adding that the planning department has had a lot of people come in asking about it. “This could be a real energizer for Downtown.”
Dutchman’s Landing owner, Paul Van Beurden, showed the tour a project he is cooking up for the waterfront lease site that will make what he calls “modest” changes to the western side of the site, including removing an outdoor patio, now being used a lot with the COVID restrictions.
The plan is to add a small deck to connect with an old fisherman’s wharf that until recently had been a working commercial fishing dock, offloading slime eels, until the market dropped out and the fishermen moved on.
A former processing room at the rear of the building would be turned into another retail space.
Van Beurden called it an “historic site,” because of its history in the fishing industry. He and his brother Leon purchased the lease site in 1986 and undertook a complete remodel in 1993 that added a second building, now home to Dolphin Shirt Co.
They remodeled again in 2011, Van Beurden said. The project would complete a section of the Harborwalk and extend it from Rose’s Landing through to Marina Square.
Van Beurden noted that a fish-buying operation, with trucks pulling in and backing out in that location, 701 Embarcadero, is no longer viable, and frankly dangerous with too many inattentive pedestrians milling about.
He’s hoping if they can do the remodel, which needs Coastal Commission approval, the City can add years onto his master lease.
The lease was for 40 years, which seemed like a very long time in 1993.
But now he has just 13-years left, making the property less attractive to potential buyers for when he finally decides to retire.
He’s hoping the City will grant him a sizable extension and restore value in the property, which is still in great condition despite being 27-years old.
Van Beurden also has two vacant retail spaces inside the Dutchman’s Landing building, which gets a lot of foot traffic, as the restaurant is among the busiest on the waterfront.