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Harris praises downtown changes
John Harris in front of Kelley Brothers Brewing Co. that he counts among the many positive improvements downtown over the past decade. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a part of a series of stories on how mayor and council hopefuls would address various municipal issues

It had been almost 30 years since Kay - the lady who is now John Harris’s wife - had been in downtown Manteca.

The City Councilman wanted to surprise Kay and drove her to the landscaped municipal parking lot in the 100 block of South Grant Street and asked her to close her eyes.

He then walked her a half block with her eyes closed and then asked her to open them.

“My god, it’s beautiful,” Harris recalls her saying.

When he asked if she knew what the building was before her, she said she didn’t.

After they went inside and looked around she knew where she was - the inside of the old El Rey Theater that now houses Kelley Brothers Brewing Co.

That anecdote illustrates Harris’  view of downtown.

“There have been a lot of changes for the better downtown,” Harris who is seeking a fifth term on the Manteca City Council in the Nov. 2 election.

Harris disagrees with those who say there haven’t been improvements downtown or that the city hasn’t been investing money. A short list includes:

•The $250,000 redevelopment agency loan that made the conversion of the burned out El Rey shell into a brewery possible that has been repaid complete with 6 percent interest.

•The streetscape improvements that replaced aging 1950s light standards with an antique design plus added streetscape ranging from decorative walks to planters.

•The interactive water play feature at Library Park plus restrooms and tot playground that didn’t exist before.

•The RDA partnership that has helped bring 10 murals to the downtown area.

•Trees that are providing shade and aesthetics that replaced those that were stunted that were planted in the 1980s.

•Decorative crosswalk pavers that replaced previous ones that were put in place improperly two decades ago.

•The mini-plaza on Maple Avenue as well as the veterans’ plaza in front of the American Legion Post Hall.

That is on top of other private sector investment including the conversion of the Manteca mortuary into a nicely landscaped day spa, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, the renovation of the brick buildings on Pierce Avenue that house a Chinese restaurant and sports bar, plus numerous storefront upgrades.

But it is the $2 million private sector investment coupled with the $250,000 RDA loan that Harris points to as the “linchpin” project that started downtown evolving into what it is today.

It was at the El Rey that Harris had his first job as an eighth grader taking tickets on Saturday for owner George Peters Sr. His pay was a free ticket to see the movie and a bag of popcorn.

Today Harris dines at Kelley Brothers. It is one of a number of downtown Manteca businesses he patronizes for everything from his hair cut to buying office supplies, and having portraits taken.

Harris believes downtown is slowly evolving. Attempts to speed it up much may prove problematic as there aren’t large parcels of land available.

He is confident the best way is to continue investment municipal funds where it makes since but not to expect major changes overnight.

“I takes time for things to change,” Harris noted.

This fall two major improvements are scheduled to move forward. One is the transit station with 100 parking spaces at Moffat Boulevard and Main Street and the other is the expansion of Library Park by ripping out segments of two streets. A new gazebo complete with amphitheatre-style seating will be among the improvements.

He noted the transit station is part of the 2020 Vision Task Force proposal that he took to heart.

He also considers the slow transformation of the Moffat Boulevard corridor key to changing downtown for the better.

In the past five years trees have been planted along the Tidewater segment, curbs and gutters as well as sidewalks added, the BMX track and Spreckels Recreation Park added, and a slow but sure clean-up of rundown property. The city this summer will repave Moffat from Austin Road to Main Street.

Harris believes the transit station - when coupled with the Crossroads Grace Community Church - will provide perfect anchors for Moffat to encourage improvements between the two of them.

As for downtown’s boundaries, he believes as Manteca grows it should be defined as the corridors of Yosemite Avenue between Highway 99 and Lathrop as well as Main Street from Lathrop Road to the Highway 120 Bypass plus parts of Center Street.

Such a definition takes into account Manteca is growing and that those two corridors serve to connect the four corners of the community.