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Manteca needs to abandon downtown

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POSTED February 15, 2013 11:55 p.m.

It’s time to think out of the box that has been downtown Manteca.

Manteca is a city of 70,000. Based on all of the bets developers already have on the table with 18,477 proposed housing units, Manteca is on its way to becoming a city of 112,000.

The epic struggle to decide what to do with downtown has now been going on for 40 years and counting. It started when Kmart first opened in a new shopping center on West Yosemite, out in the middle of nowhere west of Union Road.

The skirmishes have all been parochial and cyclical: Traffic, parking, pavers, and trees.

Pavers, once a subject sure to come up every eight years or so, is now the equivalent of a dormant volcano. Nothing has gone wrong with them now for 14 years, but rest assured when the first loose one pops up in a crosswalk the debate will erupt again with all the subtlety of Mt. St. Helens.

 A lot has happened in Manteca – and downtown for that matter – since the first shots were fired in the struggle to determine a direction for Manteca’s heart.

The population has roughly tripled. Manteca turned into a Bay Area commuter community. Retail popped up at both ends of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street. And downtown Manteca, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist as a significant retail center.

That’s right. Downtown is no longer king of Manteca retail. It’s not even a crown prince. Save for a few viable storefronts, traditional retail has fled.

At the same time the city has poured millions into the downtown area – stylish street lights, traffic signals and streetscape, decorative crosswalk pavers, expansion and upgrades to Library Park, loans and outright grants to help improve business facades, plazas on Maple Avenue and the to the Legion Hall, murals, parking, and now a combo transit and community center

It’s time to stop the predictable bickering, finger-pointing and regurgitating of all of the perceived sins of the city.

It is also time to stop thinking downtown – which some define narrowly as just six to eight blocks – and start thinking globally. A city of 112,000 needs a healthy midtown where people can shop, play, eat, live, and work.

It needs to stretch – perhaps like a big plus sign – along Yosemite Avenue from Wetmore north to Alameda and along Yosemite from Powers to Walnut, with a thickness of perhaps two blocks.

The entire area needs to be master-planned and given special status. That means de-emphasizing cars as much as possible and allowing greater density, as well as combo uses such as new structures with retail on the bottom floor and residential on the upper floors.

Since there is no longer a tool like the redevelopment agency, the city will have to get creative with perhaps tax incentives to encourage development to transform and enhance midtown.

They could even use sewer allocations in a different way. If developers want to avoid paying bonus bucks in a hot housing market, the city could give them an option of putting together a midtown project at the same time they pursue another elsewhere in the city. Instead of paying $3.2 million for sewer allocation for 400 homes at $8,000 a pop, the city could give developers an option of buying parcels downtown, demolishing structures, and replacing them with high density residential or combo projects.

The appeal to developers is simple. It would create either income-producing property or a project they can sell. That way the $8,000 bonus bucks benefits both the developer and the city as a whole. Given the right combo projects, it could even increase the inventory of subsidized workforce housing to allow Manteca to meet another elusive objective.

If those clinging to just six to eight blocks as being all that matters in Manteca’s heart, that’s fine. Give it special status as Historic Downtown and move on. The future of Manteca is too important to let a never-ending squabble waste an opportunity to transform midtown into a vibrant cultural, entertainment, and shopping district with a mix of housing and employment opportunities.

 

This column is the opinion of managing 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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