ATASCADERO — The oldest building left standing of the original Atascadero Civic Center will be headed to the auction block on May 12. The Atascadero Printery building, which first published 100,000 copies of the Atascadero News in 1916, will be up for public auction for unpaid taxes owed by Kelly Gearheart’s defunct Atascadero Printery, LLC.
An unrelated entity run by local community volunteers, the Atascadero Printery Foundation, spent the last two years raising awareness about the building and securing funds necessary to purchase the building for the unpaid tax amount of $283,000.
While negotiating a potential deal with San Luis Obispo County, the foundation discovered in late 2016 that they only had seven weeks to raise the funds to convince the County to intervene.
During the rushed campaign, the Atascadero Printery Foundation raised around $40,000 in cash and pledges from supporters of its mission to reclaim, restore, and repurpose downtown Atascadero’s oldest building.
In an article on the history of the building, local historian and author wrote “Since 1915 The Printery has held a prominent spot in Atascadero’s historic civic center and will no doubt be a major part of any downtown revitalization efforts.”
The Printery once functioned as the center of activity in Atascadero, and the Atascadero Printery Foundation envisions a revitalization of the building as a community resource.
“There is something compelling about the project,” foundation Director of Communication Nicholas Mattson said. “For those of us working on this project, to take something with the history the Printery building has, including earthquake damage and the decade it has been tied up by the Kelly Gearhart fraud case, and turn it into a community effort that can define our city at its heart.”
The foundation has collected donations ranging from $10 to $2,000, with membership designations like “Friends of the Printery” and “Founders.”
“We want to offer everyone in Atascadero, and the county, an opportunity to get involved in restoring this community treasure,” foundation President Karen McNamara said. “It is an eyesore that is not going away, and we all have a chance to do something about it.”
McNamara formed and led the Atascadero Printery Foundation after her husband Mike passed away in the summer of 2015. He was instrumental in gathering some early information about the status of the building, and developing a campaign to recover the building from the Gearhart bankruptcy case.
The efforts of the foundation were noted by the San Luis Obispo Tax Collector Jim Erb, and the Printery was removed from the tax auction in 2016.
Efforts of the foundation to negotiate with the County to complete a sale of the property outside of the auction were unsuccessful.
Atascadero Printery building sits ready for the auction in May with three dozen other properties associated with Gearhart. Recent discovery from negotiations with the County revealed a $17.5 million federal restitution lien attached to all Gearhart properties.
Undeterred by obstacles, backed by an offer to borrow whatever it does not raise to purchase the property, the Atascadero Printery Foundation continues to fundraise with a capital campaign to make a run for the property in the public auction.
“Because of the restitution lien, we don’t expect competition for the property,” Mattson said. “With the state of the building and needed repairs, and millions of dollars owed in restitution to the victims of Gearhart, its a property that only makes sense to a nonprofit such as ours, that has a mission to repurpose the building as a community resource. It just doesn’t pencil out any other way.”
For the history of the building, foundation contact information, or ways to get involved, go to atascaderoprintery.org.
For information on the tax auction, go to slocounty.ca.gov/tax/taxsaleinfo.