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It may take angels like Lucille Harris
Traffic on Yosemite through downtown Manteca on Wednesday - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

The secret to downtown’s future might be with people who love Manteca.

That includes people like Lucille Harris of Tuff Boy fame who over the years has led fights against lawsuit abuse, pushed for improved literacy programs by supporting endeavors like the Great Valley Writing Project and is rallying fellow Manteca High alumni and others to try and bring back the school tower in some form when Measure G bond work is done.

The next venture she wants to tackle for her beloved Manteca is buying a downtown building and then bringing in an entrepreneur that is willing to expand his existing business established in a nearby community. Her enticement is simple: she’s willing to provide the businessman with three years free rent to get him to come to downtown Manteca.

Harris expressed optimism that area developers and others could be encouraged to take a chance on downtown. In the past several years longtime Mantecans such as George Perry and even Susan and Ron Dell’Osso of Lathrop have bought property in downtown.

Harris is among those that are part of the latest effort that started two years ago to bring businessmen in the central district along with local property owners and absentee owners willing to work to improve downtown together through efforts led by the Manteca Chamber of Commerce and a downtown group. Their goal is to strengthen downtown’s appeal to shoppers and diners as well as expand downtown’s role as a community gathering place.

Everyone that spoke at Tuesday’s Manteca City Council meeting from elected officials to citizens agreed the biggest private sector impediment was absentee landlords that could care less about downtown Manteca’s future as they use their properties as rental cash machines. They also agreed there is renewed interest in moving downtown forward.

Even so, the council expressed reservations about spending $102,950 with the consulting firm of Optics Design to start working on a process that ultimately would identify and change regulatory impediments to investment and business expansion as well as create special rules for the central district and put  manpower in place to keep things moving.

That’s because — after prodding by Mayor Steve DeBrum for the amount — the cost to get everything in place in terms of a template with development rules and marketing strategies that has worked in other cities could come in at $700,000.

Given the fact Manteca has “four or so” other binders serving as a manual for downtown revitalization that the city has paid for over the years that basically just ended up on the shelf, Councilman Vince Hernandez made it clear if he was pressed to vote on the request to hire Optics Design on Tuesday he would vote against it.  Hernandez said he needed additional time to talk to everyone to make sure any undertaking had a chance to succeed.

DeBrum agreed, noting he wanted first to sit down with the chamber and see what they have found out during two years of meeting with property and business owners.

“(We don’t need) another pretty binder,” Councilman Richard Silverman said.

Councilman Mike Morowit said “people’s eyes need to be open” going into any endeavor that involves investing resources to revitalize downtown.

Morowit added that people need to be realistic as well.

“We aren’t Livermore, but people seem to think we are,” Morowit of those that think Manteca should replicate what Livermore has done in their downtown district.

The council postponed any decision on hiring a consultant until the first meeting in April.

Retired city planner and candidate for mayor in the last election, Ben Cantu, said whatever template is devised it needs to be written in a manner that people understand. He also suggested fashioning a “table of contents” of sorts at the start so it is clear what the endeavor to create a downtown template will involve.