Irwin Kaplan believed Manteca — and merchants — viewed the issue of downtown parking from the wrong perspective.
“The goal should be to create a parking problem and then solve it,” Kaplan said back in 1998 as city staff and others stressed about whether the 300-seat Kelly Brothers Brewery & Brickyard Oven Restaurant proposed for the then burned out shell of the El Rey Theatre would create an intolerable parking problem.
During Kelly Brothers’ 13-year run it wasn’t uncommon for patrons to “be forced “ to walk one to three blocks from where they parked their vehicles to eat a meal, attend an event, or enjoy a craft beer.
It was the housing crisis that led to massive foreclosures in Manteca that triggered the great recession that led to the brewery’s demise.
Kaplan was the community development director back in 1998. He oversaw the community-based Vision 2020 effort and the development of the 2001 downtown master plan.
That plan included building an iconic transit center with a clock tower and large community room, expanding Library Park, installing the interactive water play feature, replacing light poles and traffic signals with a late 19th century look, sidewalk pavers, creating two mini-plazas, a façade improvement program, streetscape touches such as benches, placement of large rocks and trellises as well as spurring the downtown mural project.
The city did end up creating a 30 plus space municipal parking lot behind the brewery using Manteca Redevelopment Agency funds. They also worked with nearby businesses with parking lots to enter into agreements allowing Kelly Brothers patrons to use their lots on the assumption it would benefit them.
It wasn’t unusual for the brewery to have an event along with a large dinner crowd when there were events at both MRPS social halls plus a wedding reception at the Legion Hall.
All three were within a block of the brewery. And in the middle of it a restaurant and specialty market enjoyed larger Saturday night crowds despite parking being at a premium.
A similar scenario is now playing out with the Brethren Brewery preparing to open in the 103-year building that originally housed the South San Joaquin Irrigation District offices in the 200 block of North Main Street.
They have limited parking at the back and are counting on street spaces for customer use.
Brewery partner Daniel Machado on Tuesday weighed in on the Manteca City Council debate over whether to make North Main Street four lanes through downtown by eliminating on-street parking or pursue a plan to eventually widen the corridor to make it more walkable.
Machado doesn’t want to lose parking on Main Street.
He pointed to the fact the two FESM social halls next door often have two events on Saturday nights that would likely be his prime time for business.
Before the pandemic, it wasn’t unusual for attendees to FESM events to start filling up street spaces in addition to their own parking lot before 6 p.m. and stay parked there for four hours or more.
It was common for FESM guests to use the Manteca Presbyterian Church and the BBVA Bank lots as well as parking a block or more away.
Councilman Charlie Halford noted that people complain about not being able to park in front of a store downtown but will then not have any issues about walking much longer distance just to reach the front door of Walmart or to access a shopping mall.
But as downtown consultant Michele Reeves pointed out people will walk to reach a place they want to go because of what it offers and/or the fact the outside has appeal.
Manteca’s previous experience with the Kelly Brothers brewery — now being remodeled into an event center with even more seating capacity — dovetails into Reeves’ observation.
It also underscores the point Kaplan made 23 years ago. It is better to make a parking problem by encouraging destinations people want to patronize than to have parking requirements that strangle business or throttle efforts to improve the central district.
Shortly after the brewery opened, the city stopped requiring new uses in existing downtown buildings to provide off street parking either on site or in lieu by paying to have spaces created elsewhere that was the same requirement for similar uses in new construction.
That decision immediately allowed several things occur downtown including the conversion of a mortuary that sat vacant for years for use as a day spa.
Back in 1998, Kaplan inventoried well in excess of 300 parking spaces in municipal and private lots in the downtown district in addition to on-street parking. That number has grown in recent years with the addition of the transit center and commercial endeavors such as the commercial plaza on the northwest corner of Main Street and North Street.
And if you access successful downtowns that have stepped up their destination pull with more dining and boutique style stores during peak periods such as in Pleasanton and Livermore where you often have to walk two to three blocks to reach a restaurant.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email@example.com