Gene Ramirez passed by Library Park every day during his morning bike ride and stared out at the cyclone fencing.
He knew that the City of Manteca was finally moving ahead with plans to renovate the park and expand it, but had no idea what the actual project was going to include – staring at the construction equipment and piecing together what he thought the finished product might look like.
When he stood near the grass amphitheatre Monday morning and waited for the official dedication to begin, the nearby homeowner couldn’t believe how much the downtown jewel had changed since work began immediately following the Crossroads Street Faire.
“I’m really impressed with everything that they’ve done here,” Ramirez said. “The gazebo looks great and it looks like something that people are going to enjoy. I know that my grandkids are going to have a lot of fun coming down here.”
The park expansion - that partly involved ripping out a street - was opened for public use after the dedication ceremonies on Monday morning.
The park has been the focus of city attention in recent years – reshaping the landscape from a place that attracted homeless vagrants to a family destination.
According to Mayor Willie Weatherford, there were initially funds earmarked for an archway that would have greeted traffic as it flowed into and out of downtown on South Main Street near Moffat Boulevard. It is something that would have helped raise the profile of the downtown area but cost a significant amount of money as well.
Weatherford said that he talked to his fellow council members and came up with the idea to shift the funding to the project that developed the land near the Verizon complex that the city has owned for the last several years. By doing so they were able to increase the size of the park by more than 30 percent and add elements that will cater to families.
The expansion, Weatherford said, also adds another crucial element.
“This is something that is going to bring more people downtown, and that’s something that we definitely want,” Weatherford said. “This is going to be a great gathering place for families, and we’ll get the chance to see that starting this weekend with the Pumpkin Fair.”
While the construction itself went smoothly enough, said City Manager Karen McLaughlin, there were a variety of issues that needed to be hammered out in order to bring it to fruition. It included land swaps as well as relocation of numerous underground utilities. It didn’t help that the phone company went through three owners during that time - Contel, GTE and then Verizon.
Councilman John Harris got the opportunity to keep tabs on how work was going, and couldn’t help but smile while sitting up on the panel of city officials during the dedication ceremony. That’s because he once played baseball a mere 25-yards from where he was sitting.
“I put one over the trees right there that hit the building that is now Dr. Cuevas’ – broke a window,” said Harris – who used to prowl the grounds in the 1950s. “Got a bill for that one. But it’s good to see this opening up. I think that it’s going to get a lot of use.”
Representatives from the Manteca Mural Society will be meeting at Manteca City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 3 p.m. to discuss the four mural panels that will depict Manteca’s history on an eastern facing block wall – segments that will be visible to motorists and to all who use the park. A second mural honoring local baseball will grace the southern wall and is being planned for a later date.