Situated halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, El Paso De Robles (the Pass of the Oaks) sprang up in the 1880s, much like the bubbling mineral springs that attracted its first residents. People flocked to this river valley town set amid rolling hills and oaks. From 1889 to the 1980s, it was the hub of commerce, but the explosion of shopping centers in the suburbs that offered triple the available square footage changed that. By then, the downtown’s famous hotel had burned, the mineral springs were capped, 33 vacant storefronts lined the town square, and the district’s once-proud Classic Revival buildings were pigeon-infested.
A recession in the nineties struck a near crippling blow from which they recovered economically, but their latest challenge came when a 6.5 earthquake on December 22, 2003, damaged or destroyed 82 historic downtown buildings, but did not destroy the spirit of this vibrant community.
The people of Paso Robles have shown that they refuse to give up without a fight. Their first battle began in 1987 when the community began to focus on the downtown’s revitalization, Paso Robles became a California Main Street community. The citizens, from business people to school children, rallied around the concept that volunteers united with government could save their town.
Since the inception of community-based Paso Robles Main Street program, the downtown has seen a total of 209 private-sector building improvement projects, valued at almost $14 million. Paso Robles has proven to be an exceptional model of small town revitalization by showing how Main Street, the city, the private sector, and the community can join together to rejuvenate a historic downtown.
Demand for leasing space has exceeded supply since late 2000. Property values have increased between 5 and 8.5 percent each year over the past 15 years. From 1993 to 2003, 99 new businesses have opened, bringing 508 new jobs downtown, and nearly $36 million dollars in combined public and private reinvestment.
Local business owner Ali Salmanzadeh is an example of one of why Paso Robles has made this turnaround.
In 1996, Salmanzadeh, new owner of the old Bank of Italy building and a member of the Main Street program’s economic restructuring committee, demonstrated his dedication and investment in this community. He rehabilitated the building, which houses an antique shop and a state agency, bringing 50 new jobs to the downtown. Twelve out of 14 owners of multistory buildings have followed Salmandzadeh’s lead by restoring abandoned upper floors. And, following the earthquake, Salmanzadeh again showed dedication by restoring his building again.