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Split council accepts gift of fountain & park plaza
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Tony Mistlin offers to pay for a city entrance park and fountain over tense opposition. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — Ripon is going to have a new welcome mat for those coming into its downtown from the south – a front door of sorts in the form of a fountain, a lush green lawn and a gazebo.

Tony Mistlin has already given millions to his Ripon community – now he is offering to give even more to enhance another entrance to the community with a 30,000-square-foot park and fountain.

He is responsible for other fountains and the 120-acre Mistlin Sports Park on River Road east of Jack Tone Road.

It’s all about making a difference in how visitors perceive the city as they get off the freeway and travel into the downtown area coming to a stop at the intersection of Second Street and Stockton Avenue.

Sensing a resistance from a small gathering of longtime community members in council chambers to his beautification proposal, Mistlin said he would rather bow out of the plan than to be involved in a controversy in the community.
A number of speakers went to the microphone and voiced their desires for economic development on the site – or at least a parking lot – but the city has no funds for either.  The park and fountain would be a gift from the Modesto Honda dealership owner who has long called Ripon his home.

The northwest corner has become something of a “mud hole” that once housed the Madsen Drive Thru Dairy and an early 1900s two-story frame home. The city had purchased that corner section with $1.4 million in redevelopment funds with plans to see a developer build upscale two-story San Jose-style commercial and residential buildings – businesses on the bottom with apartments on top.  It was hoped it would bring a surge of activity to the downtown.

Economic development delayed 12 to 15 years
Mayor Chuck Winn explained that with the economic downturn banks declined to provide the construction funds for the developer and the $12 million project had to be sidelined probably for some 15 to 20 years until there is a turnaround in business and hopefully another interested developer.

While Mistlin agreed to fund much of the project – with estimates upwards of $300,000 – as well as maintenance to keep up the park and fountain for three years, a number of Riponites voiced their opposition to the creation of yet another park.  They said that the corner was too busy, and that parking would not be available for those making use of the facility.

They said there is already a shortage of parking for the downtown shopping community.

The city council voted 3-2 in favor of the project saying it would definitely fill a void in time for the corner making it more attractive until another developer comes along in future years.  

Councilmen Dean Uecker and Red Nutt voted against the park as something that would create unexpected expenses to come from the general fund.  Nutt added that any projects undertaken in the present economy should bring a monetary return.

Nutt based much of his opposition on the city’s current financial status saying the city only took in $753 during the current month with bills of some $20,000.

Nutt said he would like to see a parking lot developed on the site instead of the park and fountain, but that would cost an estimated $50,000.  Councilmen Charlie Gay said he didn’t want to see any money spent in the current downturn and would favor the park if all costs were provided by private contributions and commitments of support by local organizations.

Uecker noted that he had walked the downtown talking with shop owners about their thoughts on a fountain and park being located on the outskirts of the business community.  He said none of them voiced their support for the project.

Realtor Marge Imfeld, representing the downtown chamber of commerce business community, added that merchants saw no benefit for them from the addition of a park over their current parking needs.

Winn: Park could bring people back downtown
Mayor Winn pointed out that there are more than 12 vacant businesses in the downtown saying the park creation could bring more people into the central district that seems to currently be in need of more shoppers.

Connie Jorgensen also objected to the plan saying the corner should be used as a tribute to the almond growers with a sign signifying Ripon as the Almond Capital of the World.  Mayor Winn later interjected that such a plan could possibly be piggy-backed  into the park design making special note of the contributions of local farmers.

Retired school district superintendent Leo Zuber also countered the park proposal saying the city had a good economic development plan for the Second Street corner and he didn’t want to see them give up on that proposal.  He suggested they consider putting in an “incubator” set of offices to give those starting new businesses a chance to get started and succeed.

But, that too would require funding with money the city doesn’t have today.  

Councilman Garry Krebbs countered community members who bantered the plan for its lack of parking provisions – who said the park would just be causing congestion at a busy intersection across the street from the fire station.

He said there doesn’t seem to be a parking issue or a noise problem with the weddings held at the American Legion Hall across the street or with Main Street Days or the Almond Blossom Festival.  People find places to park on the street, he said.“Here we have the opportunity to put something nice there – a park – we don’t need a parking lot on that spot,” he said.  “We need something that looks beautiful when they (visitors) drive down the hill from the overpass.”

Krebbs stressed that the city needs something built on the corner for the short term.  “I hope the economy turns around soon, but let’s do something now,” he said.

Councilmen favoring the project were firm in their resolve that signed commitments had to be in place before they would go ahead with construction.  It will be built in phases that will include a gazebo and the turning of First Street into a one-way, westbound roadway – and some parking.

All of the amenities are going to come in time.  Mistlin said he would pay for the sod, sprinklers, and the ornamental fountain.  He agreed to a 10-year time period for the existence of the park should another developer come wanting to buy the property for commercial development.

The fountain would remain with any commercial development making use of it in new construction and landscaping.  Mistlin said he was fine with that stipulation – having served its purpose for a time.