October 3, 2022
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Guadalupe nabs $4.9M in federal funds to renovate historic theater

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Guadalupe, a city west of Santa Maria that is one of the smallest in the tri-county region, will get a $4.9 million federal grant to turn its historic movie theater building into a new arts and cultural center, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced Sept. 13.

The Royal Theater Building opened in 1939 and operated as a movie theater until 1989, according to a 2021 Guadalupe City Council report. For two decades after that, it was used intermittently for performances, meetings and other events, until an electrical fire in 2011 forced a permanent closure.

The city owns the property, and earlier this year it applied for funding for the renovation under a $240 million competitive grant program run by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, earmarked for communities that rely on travel, tourism and outdoor recreation.

The $4.9 million awarded Sept. 13 is more than two thirds the size of Guadalupe’s $6.9 million general fund budget for the current fiscal year, though the theater renovation will not be paid for out of the general fund. The City Council has budgeted $5.5 million for the project in the 2022-23 fiscal year.

The city has already contracted with a firm on a design-and-build contract for the renovation. Plans call for adding a 5,000-square-foot, three-story performing arts center building that would connect to the existing theater and would include a green room, classrooms, a commercial kitchen and meeting spaces. The property would also have an outdoor amphitheater and a public plaza.

The city estimates the renovation project will create 507 jobs and retain 176 existing jobs in Guadalupe, and generate $11.4 million in private investment.

Guadalupe’s main attraction for visitors is the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, a national wildlife refuge on the coast a few miles outside of town. The city itself has a harder time attracting visitors, and the empty Royal Theater is one of only a few downtown landmarks. With a population of around 8,500, Guadalupe is bigger than only a handful of cities in the tri-county region: Ojai, Buellton, Solvang and Pismo Beach. Unlike those cities, it is not a major tourist destination. Its median household income from 2016 to 2020 was around $55,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, well below Santa Barbara County’s median of $79,000.