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Atherton gap, loss of Kmart, & council will

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POSTED June 29, 2017 1:04 a.m.

The best way for Manteca to counter the pending loss of Kmart sales tax dollars by snaring more retailers is two words: Follow through.
And nowhere does it make more economic sense for the city than completing the missing gap on Atherton Drive between Union Road and Airport Way.
The environmental and other groundwork for bridging the gap was completed in 2011 with the council first earmarking funds for the project the same year.
Much ado has been made out of it being needed to be a de facto shortcut for Ripon-Modesto bound traffic trying to avoid the snail crawl and the deadly Slinky effect of Deadman’s Curve  better known as the transition ramp from the eastbound 120 Bypass to southbound Highway 99.
That may indeed help but as several readers have pointed out the city shouldn’t be in the business of doing the state’s job by spending its limited financial resources to make perhaps 200 to 400 commuters who live down the valley feel safer, be less stressed from a lack of patience, or to possibly whittle a few minutes off their travel time when the city has a need/wish list exceeding $350 million for freeway interchange and major road projects.
From a Manteca traffic standpoint, it will take some pressure off of Woodward Avenue. It is pressure that will only grow as more homes are built south of the 120 Bypass.
The biggest reasons for moving forward now with bridging the Atherton gap and not 10 years from now center around economic gain, sound development, and keeping a promise repeated dozens of times at council meetings when frustrated residents have brought up safety, speeding, and other traffic issues south of the 120 Bypass.
In the past several months, a major furniture retailer was “shopping” for a large showroom/warehouse location to position itself in a central spot to tap the growing Manteca, Lathrop, Tracy, Modesto, and Stockton markets. They looked at the 120 Bypass given it is smack dab in the middle of 800,000 consumers who could reach a store along the highway in 20 to 40 minutes. Plus there are parcels with not just freeway access, but freeway exposure.
They gave the Bypass a look but they weren’t thrilled about the lack of surface traffic circulation. By that, they mean the ability of shoppers to take multiple exits and double back to a store they might see. Think of the retail build up along Interstate 80 near the Vacaville Outlet Mall.
Manteca’s leaders have repeatedly made note of how growing traffic volume on the 120 Bypass — primarily from new growth in the region — plus the unparalleled freeway access with four interchanges within three miles once McKinley Avenue is completed offers a golden opportunity.
It is why we have Bass Pro Shops and Big League Dreams.
Shopping centers such as Stadium Retail are faring much better in the online versus brick and mortar fight than traditional malls. Orchard Valley isn’t a traditional mall and offers opportunities but it lacks the straightforward freeway exposure stores have at Stadium Retail.
There is also a pressing time issue. River Islands, where building is taking place at a strong pace, will be adding 10,700 homes in the immediate Manteca area. It is a 30-year project in the making that Cambay Group has the means and will to see through to the 10,700th foundation being poured.
While they have a well-thought out town square for retail and such figured out, the little, medium and big boxes aren’t going to locate there. That leaves two options — Interstate 5 through Lathrop or the 120 Bypass in Manteca.
The South County thanks to being home to some of the nation’s fastest growing communities should be able to weather the rough seas slamming retail and secure more brick and mortar retailers. Even so, the number of stores that will open when the collective area adds 50,000 residents won’t be the same as when 50,000 residents were added before 2005. That means if a firm like Lowe’s shops the area to site a new location, there may not be a second opportunity. If Manteca has freeway exposure sites that can be developed complete with infrastructure that include roads the city can take advantage of it having 76,000 consumers now making it the center of retail for Manteca-Ripon-Lathrop.
The importance of infrastructure and roads being in place as opposed to just land with the proper zoning was underscored in 2001 when the city put another missing gap in place — Spreckels Avenue.
Once it was in, the fish started biting — Target, Staples, Pier One, TJ Maxx, Ford Motor Co, Millard Refrigeration (now Lineage), and Dreyers Ice Cream to name a few.
Now for the easy part: The proposal to borrow 50 percent of the cost of building the gap from growth fees set aside for other purposes to match road growth fees earmarked for half the cost means developers ultimately are paying 100 percent for constructing all four lanes of the gap with the city doing it right the first time.
Manteca not only can complete what it started but it can also follow through on their vision for the 120 Bypass.
The council directed staff early this month during the budget adoption to have a proposal in July to move forward with the Atherton gap.
Now the question is whether the council has the will to deliver.

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