TO: All media outlets
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 12/13/16
ATASCADERO, Ca — Following a year of research and board development, the rubber hit the road for the Atascadero Printery Foundation as the 2017 public tax auction will place the neglected, dilapidated, and historic Atascadero Printery Building on the sale block by San Luis Obispo County for back taxes totaling around $300,000.
The taxes are owed by a defunct corporation related to the imprisoned Kelly Gearhart, and the default on the taxes forces the county to auction the building to recoup the cost.
The mission of the Atascadero Printery Foundation is “to reclaim, restore, and repurpose the Atascadero Printery Building as a multipurpose, community-use facility” for the good of the community — and they have until January 5, 2017 to raise the remaining funds and prevent the property from going to tax auction.
The Atascadero Printery Building has great historic significance to the community of Atascadero — as the first of the Civic Center buildings to be completed, the home of Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis’ printing empire, and one of two buildings in Atascadero listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The other NRHP building is the neighboring Atascadero Colony Administration Building, which currently houses Atascadero’s City Hall.
Since its creation in 2015, the foundation has spoken with current lien holders, SLO County tax officials and supervisors, and others in search of the most reasonable and secure means by which to take possession of the property.
Foundation president Karen McNamara spearheaded the effort in honor of her late husband Dr. Mike McNamara — who, along with foundation co-founder Nicholas Mattson, was one of the first to begin to take real interest in the property after consistent public outcry.
Following “Dr. Mike’s” passing in the summer of 2015, McNamara took up the reins and organized the Atascadero Printery Foundation.
“Dr. Mike was an overcomer,” McNamara said. “His disorder left him needing to re-learn to use a limb or walk again many times over. Despite that, he focused on others with great compassion and empathy, earning three graduate degrees in a helping profession. He was a strong advocate for anyone who might need help or a listening ear. He loved education, technology, media, arts, history and social activities. He saw the need for more affordable programs for all ages and a venue to house them, and wanted so badly to see the Printery doors swing open all day as people learned a skill, worked together, had fun or enjoyed seeing such a beautiful piece of history. He truly believed that the building could be brought back from the lifeless state it is in. After his passing, our four children asked me to push the project in his memory, and it is my great honor to do so.”
Restoring the Printery will be no easy task, but the foundation is taking each small victory as a win toward the goal.
In 2016, county tax collector Jim Erb made the decision to pull the property from the auction to give the Atascadero Printery Foundation time to develop a strategy to purchase the property — a pursuit that intensified in response to the recent deadline.
“The Foundation has put in great effort to bring awareness to the Printery Building,” McNamara said, “the need to restore it, and the potential for a myriad of uses. We have worked to gain knowledge about the condition of the building to be able to dispel the myths spread around that it is not possible or cost effective to restore it. We continue to chase down and answer questions regarding expensive rehab elements.”
To reach the goal, public input and support is key for the Foundation, and it has held public meetings, social media outreach, and attended local events to keep the word spreading.
“We also recently began a donation can campaign to get the word out about the urgency surrounding our plight,” Mattson, Director of Communications, said.
After six months of working out details with interested parties, urgency spiked when news from the SLO County Board of Supervisors placed a deadline of January 5, 2017 for the foundation to raise funds to pay the back taxes and keep the property from public auction in May.
“To be honest, there was some fear at that moment [hearing the deadline],” McNamara said. “Then that Dr. Mike resolve set in. I did some quick calculating and realized that 17,500 people needed to pledge or donate $20, or 350 at $1000. We have a great community. Some are unable to give, but some will give larger amounts to balance out. I am positive many people love the building or see how it can be a source of vitality to our town and region.”
Despite the generous and charitable community, raising that amount so quickly is tantamount to impossible, and many are hesitant to put money toward such a precarious effort.
One of the most common questions is ‘what if you don’t raise the money in time?’
“Sadly, if our foundation does not raise enough, the Board of Supervisors will not vote to help us purchase the building,” McNamara said. “It will then go on the public tax auction in May. Should an entity think they are getting a ‘great deal’ and win the bid at the auction, they will soon find out an enormous restoration project is required of them by grant deed restriction. It has been determined that there is absolutely no ability to turn a profit on the project. Our fear is that upon this discovery the purchaser will leave the building standing deserted once again, continuing to degrade.”
The first phase of the foundation mission is to take possession of the property, but the members have already assumed a sense of ownership. The building was damaged in the 2003 San Simeon earthquake, and has since become home to vermin, vandals, and vagrants. The damage done by the latter rivals the damage done by the earthquake, and every day the building goes unprotected from the elements adds cost to the eventual restoration.
The foundation has taken it upon themselves to protect it.
“Members of the foundation and some terrific volunteers have worked on boarding the windows and doors to stop the horrible damage being caused by vandals,” McNamara said. “The fence has been repaired and a security door installed. The grounds have been cleaned up, overgrown vegetation cut, and debris picked up to make it apparent the building is not slated to be demolished. Historic artifacts and furnishings have been saved and stored to be placed back in the building once restored. The process will continue as we seek to keep out the weather, vandals, and birds who do incredible damage.”
The prospect of restoring the Printery is a daunting task, and the foundation does not expect to do it alone. With respect to the potential construction of a performing arts center on the property, the foundation has partnered with Atascadero Performing Arts Center Committee and is looking for other kindred spirits to join in the preservation.
McNamara often recites the mantra “many hands make light work” in her leadership role, and if there is one thing that will bring about the mission of the foundation, it will be the power of a caring community.
The foundation goal is to present a strong appeal to the SLO County Board of Supervisors for the objection to the tax sale, at which point the foundation intends to enter escrow for the purchase of the property.
Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised through various avenues, including personal appeals, online fundraisers, donation cans at local shops, and board contributions.
“There is a long way to go for this small group of thoughtful, and committed citizens,” Mattson said, “but each board member has an open hand ready to grab the hand of others interested in helping us reach our goal of making this a useful and vibrant element of our downtown, instead of the ‘haunted house’ it has become.”
The community can get involved in a variety of ways, including donations, letters to the editor of local newspapers, and writing public officials. More information can be found on the foundation website at atascaderoprintery.org.