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The case for making Center Street the heart of downtown

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POSTED April 7, 2010 3:06 a.m.
Ben Cantu - who hopes to ascend to the mayor’s post this November – calls the quagmire over downtown Manteca’s future the equivalent of a “Mexican stand-off.”

It’s an apropos observation based on 30 years of merry go-round rhetoric, trashing by a handful of detractors of plans such as those advanced by the citizens Vision 2020 Task Force, and enough finger pointing that some folks involved need to get the digit next to their thumb put into a cast.

Cantu believes it is time for a bold initiative on the city’s part.

The bold move Cantu believes need to be taken is crafting a game plan and going full speed ahead and not letting critics wear the city down. It sounds simple but given the toxic history of city hall and downtown working relations when it comes to the big picture permanent peace between Israel and Palestine seems more doable.

Cantu as a retired municipal planner has seen more than a few efforts to move downtown into the future start humming along then begin sputtering and crashing when the spirit of cooperation at the start deteriorates into a refrain of “my way or the highway”.

Cantu has got the right idea but perhaps his energy – and those of others – is focused in the wrong place.

Instead of trying to address the four or five blocks of “old downtown” on Yosemite Avenue where stores meet sidewalks with no room between adjoining structures to even slip a piece of paper, the city needs to shift their focus over a block to the north.

Center Street – from the railroad tracks to Fremont Avenue – has much more potential to work private-public partnerships to transform downtown into a true destination and gathering place.

There is more opportunity for everything from cobbling together parcels for projects to better parking, landscaping, and building anew with second-story apartments or condos to bring more life – and consumers – to downtown.

Once a successful transformation comes to Center Street it will increase the drawing power and actual value of “old downtown” to encourage investments by current landlords or future owners.

Someone remarked recently that downtown is in decline. Well, yes and no. Don’t tell Kelley Brothers, German Glas Werks, the various ethnic markets and bakeries, Bedquarters and others that downtown is in decline. Sure, times aren’t flush but they are still pulling people in. The goal should be to create a vibrant destination for dining, boutique shopping, and cultural events to offer something that the new retail centers can’t – a true hometown experience.

Nothing the city has done so far has to be abandoned. Library Park and the library border Center Street more so than Yosemite Avenue. The Tidewater Bike Path crosses Center Street as well. It intersects Main Street, just like Yosemite Avenue. You can extend the Tidewater-style street fixtures and – if deemed necessary – widen sidewalks for “sidewalk dining” and other uses” without seriously impacting traffic flow or parking.

What Center Street doesn’t have is 30 years-plus of the well being poisoned.

It is a chance for everyone to start anew.
It is also a much more effective place for the redevelopment agency to buy up parcels at market price when they become available. Of course, you need a plan.

But once that plan is in place and the city ends up with some key parcels, projects can be put together that will literally help transform downtown.

Meanwhile, an effort needs to be made so that downtown doesn’t fall off the radar. If a good chunk of this community’s 67,000 residents don’t buy into downtown then there is no overwhelming reason to commit municipal resources to bring it along. There needs to be events or some reason to draw people downtown to make them understand they have an investment in the heart of their city.

If not it won’t be too many moons from now that you’re going to see those type of activities in The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley’s “pseudo downtown” leaving “old downtown” high and dry.

After 30 years, our leaders have to understand the clock is ticking.

Downtown is too important to let its fate be stalled by a handful of people.

We have to decide whether it is important for Manteca to have a heart. If it is, we need to make sure it is healthy.

And just like the human body will often regenerate itself by adding new cells around those that are dying, Manteca needs to do the same thing with downtown.

In short – the best way for Yosemite Avenue to have a future is to build downtown’s future first along Center Street.
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