Atherton Drive is the only major arterial in Manteca that can’t trace its roots back to the late 19th century.
Major streets that include Lathrop Road, Louise Avenue, Yosemite Avenue, Austin Road, Airport Way, Union Road and Main Street (Manteca Road) along with key connector streets such as Cottage Avenue and Woodward Avenue were all part of a grid of roads placed a mile apart on maps in the late 1850s as the sandy plains was being eyed for development.
Those roads after just a few years of being on paper, had all appeared as dirt roads that would be called primitive even by today’s dirt road standard. As Manteca grew, the roads widened.
Today they are the roads that connect neighborhoods and move traffic to and from business parks and employment centers allowing Manteca to grow on a predictable grid pattern with downtown at the center.
Atherton Drive is a game changer. Not only is it a big departure from the city’s grid pattern for major streets of the first 110 years the moniker “Manteca” was hung on this part of South San Joaquin County, but it is providing the city with a way of maximizing what is arguable its biggest transportation asset — the 120 Bypass. The first segment of Atherton Drive did not appear until 16 years ago.
Some at city hall saw
the Bypass as a barrier
to growing to the south
Before development breached the 120 Bypass, some at Manteca City Hall were of the school of thought that the freeway presented a barrier to growth. As such up until a development group led by Mike Atherton came along, the planning for south of the freeway was non-existent.
Atherton Drive — as opposed to Woodward Avenue — was successfully advanced by the developers for the purpose of allowing Manteca to lure large-scale retail while using apartment complexes to buffer the new neighborhoods that were envisioned south of the four-lane east-west street.
Atherton Drive — unlike other major aerials in Manteca — does not strictly stay in a rigid east-west or north-south alignment.
Instead it is in place on approved plans to T-intersect with Woodward Avenue west of the existing McKinley Avenue alignment. It will head north and curve eastward passing approved homes and apartments and a retail area before crossing McKinley Avenue and connecting with its current terminus west of Airport Way.
From there Atherton Drive crosses three major north-south arterials — Airport Way, Union Road, and Main Street — before curving southward past Van Ryn Avenue. It then crosses Woodward Avenue and ends — for now — less than a half mile to the south. Eventually it will be extended into the Austin Road Business Park. The planned business park and commercial venture also has been envisioned for 4,200 plus homes. When that develops, Atherton Drive will be the key arterial that connects it with existing parts of developed Manteca without having to hop onto the freeway.
The biggest promise of Atherton Drive, however, is what it could do to lure commercial and other investment seeking high-profile freeway exposure with easy on and off access.
Once the McKinley Avenue interchange is in place, the 120 Bypass will offer unparalleled freeway access with four interchanges a mile apart with a large swatch of large undeveloped land along four miles of Atherton Drive that is all within a half mile of freeway access.
Given the regional growth, the fact Manteca is adding enough new housing units annually to grow by 2,000 plus residents yearly, and the fact 60 percent of the city’s population has been projected by 2040 to reside south of the Bypass has made Atherton Drive appealing.
Future may be more
apartments with Santana
Row-style dining, retail
That said the pandemic has accelerated online retail meaning even with large city and regional growth the amount of traditional brick and mortar space the Atherton Drive corridor could eventually support is shrinking.
It is why Atherton believes you will see even more apartments along the drive named in honor of his grandfather, Warren Atherton who was a Stockton attorney that served as the American Legion national commander in 1943 and 1944 and is widely recognized as the designer of the G.I. Bill of Rights.
And while Atherton will be the first to tell you that apartments are an ideal use to buffer the freeway from nearby neighborhoods, he sees the potential for the 4.5-mile corridor to emerge as a new Manteca with high density rental units and condos supporting small-scale, neighborhood types of shops, services and restaurants. It would be the type of development that people who reside around the 4.5-mile corridor would be as apt to walk or bicycle to as they would drive a car.
Due to the central location as well as being along the freeway such ventures would also be supported by established traditional neighborhoods elsewhere in Manteca.
The ability to snag regional retailers seeking to tap into one of California’s fastest growing markets is why the 116,141-square-foot Living Spaces furniture showroom is now under construction. Manteca is at the epicenter of 1 million consumers within a 30-minute drive. It is also centrally located to appeal to mega-region retailers such as Bass Pro Shops that lure consumers from up to 100 miles.
Such super retailers aren’t a dime a dozen which is why the higher density housing development that can support smaller business is important to the area’s future success.
The end result is likely to be the creation of a Northern San Joaquin Valley version of San Jose’s Santana Row where dining, shopping, services such as health clubs and hair stylists combine with entertainment will surrounded by apartments and condos.
Also helping Atherton Drive toward such a future is the fact adjoining the freeway as it does with the amount of available land make it a transit village of sorts for younger workers who have started families that are being pushed out of the Bay Area to find affordable rentals.
Not only does being on top of a freeway that regional transit planners are gearing up to run more buses to the Bay Area with the goal of adding a bus and high occupancy only vehicle (HOV) lane along Interstate 205, but in-city bus service will be able to make connection with the downtown transit station less than a mile away from Atherton Drive and Main Street.
The transit center is where starting in 2023 Altamont Commuter Excess trains will stop that provide service to San Jose and Sacramento employment centers. It is also where San Joaquin Regional Transit and Modesto Area Express bus services pick up and drop off passengers.
There are already 1,312 apartment units built, under construction or approved along Atherton Drive. That includes 603 already built, 428 under construction, and 281 that is being allowed in the new Union Crossing development anchored by Living Spaces.
Poag — the development firm that owns The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley — is working with the city to devise a plan to add apartments and condos where parking lots currently are in the 757,000-square-foot shopping center.
The goal is to create a community that could transform the vacant in-line space into vibrant restaurants, shops and entertainment venues not just for the “neighborhood residents” but those nearby such as the resident of the 428 apartments being built just east of Bass Pro Shops.
If at least 572 units are added to the Orchard Valley site, when coupled with Valencia Apartments Atherton and his partners are now building, there will be 2,000 consumers within walking distance that do not have to cross Atherton Drive to access the heart of the center that was designed from the start to emulate an old-style Main Street feeling.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com