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Manteca’s goal: Avoid Kmart closing from lapsing into cancerous blight

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POSTED June 13, 2017 1:36 a.m.

Kmart’s future may seem dicey but not as much as the building the retailer will leave behind when it closes its Manteca store sometime after September.
Some, such as Fleenor Richards, have suggested the city step up now and try to help lure a replacement retailer such as Lowe’s Home Improvement Center.
It’s a little small for a Lowe’s but if the property owner is motivated and the city can sweeten the pot they might just snag a big fish.
Some, such as Karen Pearsall, suggest that the city consider the possibility of acquiring the building for a new library and/or performing arts center. It has ample parking and could generate traffic that could help jumpstart the development of nearby vacant commercial land while the present library could be converted to a community center.
Both are interesting scenarios.
You may ask, however, why it is the City of Manteca’s concern when it comes to future of the 107,489 square-foot structure built in 1993 on nearly eight acres on the edge of residential neighborhoods in the 200 block of Northgate Drive. Two words: Turnkey Solutions.
Turnkey Solutions started in the 1970s as Indy Electronics. When the building in the Manteca Industrial Pak was shuttered in the mid-1990s it became a mega-attractive nuisance. The homeless, druggies, copper thieves, gangs, and vandals had a field day destroying the inside of the building and dragging down the area. It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision what could happen if the building is left vacant after Kmart pulls out.
But unlike Turnkey Solutions, there is an adjacent neighborhood to taint.
The City Council in the past has directed its economic development specialist and municipal staff to help retain businesses. The best example is when BR Funsten Flooring was running out of space and looking at options in Stockton. The city stepped up, worked with them on fees, and fast tracked an addition to save jobs and tax dollars. The firm is currently expanding its Manteca facility once again. The city also played a role in helping businesses forced to move by the Highway 99/Lathrop Road interchange work to relocate in Manteca.
The steps were taken to protect jobs and city sales tax.
Helping the property owner find a new use for the Kmart site does that and more. Preventing it from turning into a Turnkey Solutions or, worse yet, a repeat of the Sycamore Arms boarding house fiasco at Yosemite and Sycamore avenues in downtown Manteca is well worth the effort.
At the very least the council should direct code enforcement — as well as Manteca Police, the Manteca Fire Department, and Public Works — to be proactive out of the gate.
By that they need to contact the property owner 60 days before the store’s targeted closing and inform them of property management rules for vacant buildings including boarding up windows and painting the plywood to match the exterior colors.
They should also ask the property manager how they intend to secure the premises and how often they intend to make periodic inspections while it is vacant. Then as any violation occurs, the city needs to respond immediately and cite the owner.
Before the calendar moves closer to September, the city needs to make sure it has all the legal rules in place allowing it to firmly stay on top of any situation that may arise at the Kmart building or any other location in town.
As for incentives, the city needs to put in place a repertoire of enticement tools the property owner can employ to try and secure users. It may include possible zoning changes to secure a non-traditional retail business such as the plumbing supply firm that’s next door to Kmart. Such a non-traditional use strategy allowed the city to secure JM Equipment that deals with farm and industrial customers to locate into the Sexton Chevrolet site on Spreckels Avenue when the almost new dealership building was vacated in the early part of the Great Recession.
Perhaps even a limited sales tax split for certain preferred uses could be offered much like it was to land Costco and Bass Pro Shops.
Even if council members are no longer big fans of such incentives, they need to consider the location of the property. People were scratching their heads in 1993 when Kmart located there in the first place. It is not exactly a high profile commercial site. And given that Manteca has plenty of raw land zoned for commercial along the 120 Bypass and even the Highway 99 freeway, it will make it a bigger challenge for the property owner to snag a replacement tenant.
The city needs to reach out now and meet with the property owner and offer to help in any way they legally can to make sure the building doesn’t end up being vacant for an extended period of time. Once that happens, the game has been lost and the cancer known as blight will take hold.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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