Guadalupe plans to renovate and repurpose Royal Theater

Guadalupe is taking its first steps toward renovating the long vacant Royal Theater, a project that, despite a lengthy and uncertain road ahead, could result in the theater reopening for public use within the next several years. 

click to enlarge Guadalupe plans to renovate and repurpose Royal Theater
HISTORIC : Residents gather outside the Royal Theater in Guadalupe in 1940, a year after was opened. Now Guadalupe hopes to renovate the long vacant building and use it as a performing arts center.

On April 16, Guadalupe released a request for proposals from development and design teams willing to restore the Royal Theater and transform it into a community arts facility. Although the building needs to be retrofitted and otherwise updated, City Administrator Todd Bodem said its original art deco features and location at 848 Guadalupe Ave. in the heart of downtown make it the perfect spot for a performing arts center, a place where locals could see a movie or play before grabbing dinner and drinks. 

“A city like this has to start developing and diversifying its revenue portfolio by creating some attractions,” Bodem said. “And this would be an attraction.”

The application period closed on May 17, and although the city received just a single proposal, Bodem has hope. 

With a structure already in place on-site and limited funding on the city’s part, it’s a challenging project to tackle. But Bodem said the organization that filed a proposal has worked on successful projects in Guadalupe before. It has a firm grasp on the city’s goals and stakeholders, and he’s confident City Council will approve the proposal once it’s reviewed. 

“It’s just fun because it’s been sitting there for a long time, and it’s just—I have this belief that we’re going to get this done.” 

But there have been a lot of promises to refurbish and repurpose the Royal Theater building over the years, and Guadalupe locals tend to be skeptical of any new plans. Once it was going to be a venue for local bands; in 2006 there were stories about plans to turn it into a recording studio; and in 2015 the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center considered buying it but opted to take over the Far Western Tavern instead. 

This particular effort is dependent on grant funding the city hopes to obtain. The city is applying for a community development block grant—due on June 14—that would fund the architectural design and civil planning work for the Royal Theater’s renovations. Once there’s a “shovel ready” building and renovation plan in place, Bodem said the city plans to apply for an even larger grant that would cover actual construction costs, which he estimates will add up to about $4 million. 

Guadalupe’s demographics and financial struggles make it a shoo-in for such funding, Bodem said. The city is also working to get the building (it was built in the mid-1900s and owned by a Japanese-American family that was later forced into a Japanese internment camp during World War II) registered as a historic place, another likely feat that could make it eligible for even more funding.  

“So I think incrementally we’re going to get it done,” Bodem said.

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