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Should downtown be chained to 1001 W. Center?

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POSTED December 27, 2009 2:11 a.m.
A few years back a church opened in the 100 block of West Yosemite Avenue.

There were more than a few downtown types who didn’t believe it was good for business.

Although some questioned the appropriateness of the church opening next door to a bar, the opposition had nothing against organized religion. They pointed out it was the third church – at the time – to open in a storefront.  What they wanted to see was a tenant that other downtown concerns could build on in terms of foot traffic and customers to create synergy.

Fast forward to the billiards hall turned into dance club. Again, there were objections. This time the opponents felt it would be detrimental to efforts to attract people downtown. Their feared it would be a step backward much like when a tattoo parlor opened up a few years prior.

Unlike modern-day retail centers where the property owners and merchants have a working partnership, there isn’t such a mechanism downtown to control what goes on.

In a number of cases newer retail centers have a monthly maintenance or common operations fees aimed at keeping the center in an attractive condition plus to promote businesses. They have control because they have a game plan and a means to fund it.

Downtown Manteca – however that is defined – can’t look to City Hall for answers.

Merchants and property owners in Tracy just voted to create a Professional Business Improvement District (PBID). They already had an association they funded to the tune of $30,000 from their own collective pockets but determined it didn’t give them enough control or put a plan in place that was their own or enough funds to implement it.  Thorough self-assessment, they will now have $135,000 a year to compete against new retail areas in Tracy including around West Valley Mall.

There are arguments that City hall does nothing for downtown. It would be interesting to see proportionally the aid in infrastructure from the Manteca Redevelopment Agency for places such as the Stadium Retail Center compared to what was done for downtown and the amount of sales tax they generate for the city. The odds are high that Manteca gets a lot more return from the Stadium Retail Center. The city also provides foot patrols from time-to-time, sweeps streets, trims trees, strings lights in the trees, and other such routine “common area” maintenance that new centers provide for themselves. Yes, downtown property owners are taxpayers too but rest assured there is a higher level of basic municipal services dispersed there than in a neighborhood.

 The real question for those who believe they are part of downtown need to ask is do they want to call the shots or do they want to divert energy to fighting city hall instead of investing it to try and lure more customers?

It has been said those who control the money control the game.

A downtown district never has complete autonomy due to its public nature being on municipal streets but a PBID gives them the ability to establish ground rules on the type of businesses and putting in policies that make it possible for everything from allowing sidewalk dining where plausible to coordinated promotions aimed at luring people downtown and into stores and restaurants.

It is easy to blame downtown’s perceived woes on whatever five Manteca residents are serving at any particular time as elected representatives of the city.

What isn’t easy is ditching the blame game for self determination.

To assume the shakers in downtown want the city to hold downtown’s fate is ludicrous given the animosity that is directed at 1001 West Center Street primarily from those who hold on to an ancient parking district to define the realm of Manteca’s business central business district that serves a city four times the size it was in the mid-1960s.

It takes courage. It takes commitment. It takes a plan. It takes money. And it takes as much independence as possible from City Hall.

That doesn’t mean the city shouldn’t at one point invest more RDA funds into downtown. Quite the contrary. The city, though, should be reluctant to spend another dime without stakeholders in the central district on the same page unless, of course, they are gluttons for verbal punishment from downtown folks who love to hate city hall more than they do the idea of forging a working partnership.

Self-determination is the answer.
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