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Weatherford: Downtown needs housing, mixed uses
A passing motorist waves to Mayor Willie Weatherford in the 100 block of West Yosemite Avenue as he talks about what he’d like to see happen downtown. - photo by HIME ROMERO


This is a part of a series of stories on how mayor and council hopefuls would address various municipal issues

Downtown Manteca needs two things - reasons for consumers to go there as well as more people living there to support a wide array of shops and restaurants you don’t find at modern shopping centers.

That, in a nutshell, drives Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford’s vision for downtown.

To make that happen he believes the city needs to do several things:

•expand the area that is defined as downtown or Central Manteca and adopt zoning strategies to allow denser development.

•encourage and allow multi-story buildings with retail and offices on the ground floor and residential such as condos and apartments on second and third floors.

•get the redevelopment agency to buy up strategic property as it becomes available so they can be packaged and then resold to developers in parcels large enough to pursue projects.

•get property owners on board to work with the city to enhance the drawing power and ultimately the value of their properties.

That would involve using the redevelopment agency to a large degree. Weatherford noted that Lodi - which doesn’t have a RDA - utilized a downtown business district that property owners formed to create a tax base for the revitalization of the community’s central district.

Weatherford is one of five people seeking a four-year term as mayor in the Nov. 2 election. Others are retired senior planner Ben Cantu, former mayor Carlon Perry, entrepreneur Samuel Anderson, and council member Debby Moorhead,

“Downtown has to offer something that the malls can’t,” Weatherford said.
He noted chain restaurants such as Applebee’s, Red Robin and Chili’s operate on high turnover of tables.

“Downtown needs restaurants where people can stay for a couple of hours to have a leisurely lunch or have coffee,” Weatherford said.

Weatherford said the city needs to work with property owners and developers to build more housing downtown.

“It (downtown) needs a population to support shopping and stores that is within walking distance,” Weatherford noted.

He’d like to see downtown’s boundaries expanded south to Wetmore Street, north to Alameda Street to take in Manteca’s original shopping center (El Rancho) and east to Fremont Avenue.

“I believe you have to go with what historically has been the center of Manteca,” Weatherford said. “At one time there were businesses along Oak Street (which parallels the tracks south of Yosemite Avenue),” he said.
Such an expansion would make more parcels available for combination projects with first floors of retail and offices and upper floors of residential.

He did not that the city a few years back tried to work with property owners to use redevelopment agency money to clean up second floors in the 100 and 20 blocks of West Yosemite Avenue and create at-market housing. Property owners weren’t interested. Businesses and property owners also spiked a recent attempt to create a downtown business district that would have created one voice to advance concerns and projects to the city as well as push for policies and zonings that would make the downtown district unique and clean up various problems by creating a list of things they don’t want to see downtown. The entity would have levied assessments to help fund events and other activities to draw customers downtown.

Weatherford believes that would have been a more effective way than the city telling property owners what they need to do in terms of setting parameters for everything from the type of businesses allowed to possible building design standards.

“Downtown needs to again be a gathering place for the community,” Weatherford said

He noted that when he first started working as a Manteca Police officer there were a number of bars in the downtown district. They served to bring people downtown to socialize on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons. The El Rey Theater which is now Kelley Brothers was also a major draw.

Weatherford doesn’t advocate returning downtown to its heyday as a significant bar district noting that it is no longer desirable and people’s habits have changed, but it does underscore his point about the importance of having a reason for people to gather downtown.

The mayor said the opening of the Industrial Park Drive extension has taken some pressure off Main Street through downtown while acknowledging back up still occurs at peak times throughout the day.

He wants to see the city re-examine downtown traffic flow patterns and possibly consider one-way streets but only after a plan is in place to encourage more development to create additional retail and office space plus housing so there is a clear idea of how future traffic patterns will develop.

Weatherford believes the transformation of Library Park into a true plaza complete with a new gazebo with amphitheater-style seating by expanding into two closed streets in the next 12 months is another step toward putting things in place to make the central district more appealing.