Atascadero’s Renaissance Man
The Atascadero Chamber of Commerce announced that this year’s Citizen of the Year went to Mike Zappas. Mike has played a large part in developing the beauty of Atascadero for the last 30 years, and chances are, if you’ve driven around town lately, you’ve seen at least one of his creations while passing by.
“I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t see it coming. It wasn’t something that I asked for,” Mike said about winning the award. “But really, the best part of it was that Kevin [Campion], the guy from 805 Boardshop, recommended to my son that they nominate me. To have your own son think enough of you that he would do something like that that was really what hit me the hardest. That was really nice. It hit me in the heart.”
Mike grew up in the Southern California city of Torrance, and fondly remembers his childhood and teen years working in his dad’s newspaper office. He added that it’s his father who taught him the tools to put him where he is today.
“That’s where I spent my youth delivering papers, and my dad, as I got older and through into college he, started moving into real estate development and management. Primarily management,” Mike said. “So I grew up managing apartments and retail, and then my career took a jog. I was managing our shopping center there for my dad and then went into health clubs, and then I ended up here after I got involved with 18 different businesses.”
He came to the Central Coast in 1991, and he and his wife Peg have lived in the same house since they first moved to Atascadero. At the start, Mike’s family owned Santa Ysabel Ranch, which he managed before selling all of the parcels where Target now stands to Weyrick, and he also ran the River Lodge for 25 years.
“That’s what brought me up here, but what made me want to move here was the people, but also it’s just so beautiful,” Mike stated. “I grew up in Southern California, and it was mostly asphalt and concrete. There’s so many trees here.”
Mike, who has a degree in biology, added that he’s very proud of being able to leave 215 oaks standing, primarily blue, while building Hidden Oaks. The National Arbor Foundation recognized Mike, his company Z Villages Management and Development, and the project for leaving the oaks intact while the building of the apartments took place, building around them instead of removing them from the property.
“The main thing is how special Atascadero is, and I don’t know still if people really understand how special it is,” he added. “I know, coming from Southern California. Every time I go back there, I can’t believe how busy it is. There’s those freeways and all of the … it’s just so much more serene up here.”
For the last five years, Mike and his company have been busy building and developing downtown Atascadero’s newest addition, La Plaza. In that five years, Mike stated that he’s really grown to appreciate Atascadero even more through its unique history, from the Woman’s Republic and the city’s artist colony roots to the old La Plaza that was once on Traffic Way before it burnt to the ground.
“We had over 100 sub-contractors working on this project [La Plaza]. So people are giving me the credit, but really it was those subs and the talented architects and architectural historians that we had,” said Mike. “They really were the ones that came up with all the great ideas.”
He added that La Plaza was a collaborative process between a large group of people who wanted to maintain the historical element of Atascadero.
“People stop me all the time and tell me they’re really excited about Atascadero now. And that’s what we wanted. We wanted to be agents of change here. We wanted to bring a new vibe to Atascadero, and I think it’s starting to take hold, and it’s not just us now,” Mike said proudly.
Mike and Peg have four now-grown children, whom they raised in Atascadero. Each of his children has also added their own staples to Atascadero. Max is the current president of the Homeowners Association. Zoe was a major part of getting the Equality Mural Project going downtown. John is an artist who created the logo and the sculpture at La Plaza. And his youngest son Tucker is a social worker in the Bay Area.
“It’s been a family effort. Everybody’s jumped in and helped,” he added.
Things are starting to wind down for Mike, and he’s started to turn over a lot of things to his son Max, who also works for Z Villages. He’s looking forward to being able to travel with his wife and spend extra time with her, which has been a main priority since her diagnosis of brain cancer three years ago.
“It’s been a long journey. We’ve been here over 30 years. To tell you the truth, the first thing that struck me when I first moved here was how friendly everyone was,” stated Mike. “The people here are absolutely fantastic. We’ve made great friends, and it was a great place to raise our kids.”
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