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Make it appeal to Petula Clark

Manteca council envisions a ‘destination’ downtown

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Make it appeal to Petula Clark

Downtown Manteca looking west into the 200 block of West Yosemite Avenue.

HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

POSTED April 12, 2014 1:09 a.m.

It’s not 1918 anymore.

It’s 2014.

And accordingly Manteca’s elected leaders such as Councilman Vince Hernandez believe the time is long overdue to switch downtown’s perceived emphasis from a traditional retail and service hub to one that is built on dining, entertainment, and shops designed for specialty shopping.

In other words, Manteca needs a downtown that Petula Clark would sing the praises of to the world.

It’s why the Manteca City Council last month indentified working for a more vibrant downtown as part of an overall ongoing municipal goal of establishing and maintaining a sound economic base.

Pursuing a more vibrant downtown as a municipal goal is nothing new. It’s almost as old as the city itself. What is a change, though, is for the first time in at least 20 years council members are stating at a public meeting that they want the city to take the initial steps to assume a leadership role to make things happen. Even when the city sunk more than $4 million into downtown upgrades starting over a decade ago through streetscape improvements and enhancements to Library Park, the city waited to move forward until there was a movement among those with a vested interests in downtown to get involved.

Now, judging from the council’s recent goals workshop, elected leaders want the city to devote more attention than they have been recently at trying to come up with working solutions to pump new life into downtown.

“We need to take downtown from 1914 into 2014 and make it a destination place,” Hernandez said referencing the more traditional retail/service mix that still dominates downtown.

As such Hernandez feels that handicaps some, but not all, merchants who aren’t able to compete head-to-head with similar retailers and such in strip malls and other newer shopping areas in Manteca.

Hernandez praised several traditional retailers including Tipton’s that he noted have partially turned themselves into a “boutique” style business by offering items and service that their newer competitors such as OfficeMax, Staples, and various big box retailers that dabble in  office supplies don’t. 

“Others like OfficeMax will suggest to their customers to try Tipton’s when they have something they can’t help them with,” Hernandez noted.

He also praised Tipton’s personalized delivery service.

Hernandez noted the city hasn’t been standing idly by. In addition to streetscape improvements in recent years the city has invested in the transit station doubling as a gathering place plus has significantly expanded Library Park in a bid to accommodate more events that in turn will attract more people downtown. He also noted that seniors, including ones that have recently moved to Manteca to neighborhoods such as Del Webb at Woodbridge, tend to like downtown.

Hernandez said downtown was successful for 50 or so years as a retail hub but changing times needs to make it more focused on becoming “the place to be” such as is the case in Pleasanton, Livermore, Lodi, and other similar-sized cities.

Councilman Steve DeBrum related a conversation he had with a key employer in Manteca who was trying to persuade someone to come to work for them in a critical position. But instead of taking the prospective employee into the central district for lunch he opted to take them to Del Rio Country Club out of fear the prospective employee would get a negative image of the community.

“It’s not eye appealing,” DeBrum said of downtown.

The challenge, he said, is to find a way to prompt people to say, “by golly, this is a beautiful city.”

“We need to make downtown Manteca a destination point,” DeBrum. “It needs to be where people want to mingle and gather.”

Councilman John Harris agreed with his colleagues.

“Over the years the city has put a lot of money into downtown,” Harris added. “In my view, the out-of-town property owners haven’t stepped up to the plate.”

Mayor Willie Weatherford added that strategies that would encourage more restaurants and venues that make downtown a gathering place are key.

“Downtown is near and dear to all of us,” Weatherford said.

Councilman Debby Moorhead and DeBrum went a step further and suggested two starting points for the city’s efforts regarding downtown.

One would be studying the possibility of one-way streets to not simply move traffic more efficiently but set the stage for other improvements to enhance its pedestrian friendliness. They’d also like to see studies and recommendations to adopt an economic development plan for specific areas in Manteca such as downtown.

Staff suggested in draft goals that the city might start with evaluating the placement of limits on uses in downtown’s core. In the past, some merchants have complained ventures such as tattoo shops create the wrong image and make it tough to attract destination-style businesses.

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