Manteca’s proposed municipal budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1 includes $100,000 to assess city hall space needs.
It is the initial step toward designing new city hall and police facilities as well as coming up with a location and a cost analysis as the prerequisite first step to put fees in place for growth to pay its fair share of a new city hall.
City Manager Tim Ogden said various sites will be looked at but based on the fact the city owns the land where the current Civic Center is located at 1001 W. Center St. and could easily go up and build in phases as money becomes available it could very well end up being the best choice.
Ogden noted it may not be as centrally located as other sites but it might be the best and most cost effective solution to house city hall functions with Manteca on track at its current growth rate to reach 125,000 residents in less than 20 years. The city currently has 83,750 residents.
It is no surprise that Mayor Ben Cantu is adamant that city hall needs to return to its downtown roots. Cantu has made building a new city hall downtown a key component of his past five campaigns to gain election either as mayor or a council member.
“It will bring a lot of foot traffic to downtown,” Cantu said, adding that would make it feasible for more businesses and restaurants to open in the city’s central district.
He also believes the presence of what ultimately could be 250 to 300 city employees as well as the large number of residents that drop by city hall could generate enough activity that it would help squeeze out the homeless that he noted tend to shy away from where people gather.
Cantu already has a preferred site that would revolve around the vacant lot that once was home to the Manteca Bean Co. on the northwest corner of South Grant Street and Moffat Boulevard across from the Manteca Transit Center.
“It is right across from the city’s transit hub and centrally located to the city for police,” Cantu said.
The location is within a block of what for years has been the geographic center of the city as well as where the major north-south arterial (Main Street) crossing the east-west corridor (Yosemite Avenue) that ties outlying commercial areas to downtown.
Cantu first unveiled a detailed vision for a downtown city hall during his 2010 campaign for mayor.
It included purchasing not just the Manteca Bean Co. site but also land where an adjoining drive-in taqueria is as well as the Community Hospice HOPE Chest and Kelly Moore paint store are located plus property on the east side of South Grant Street.
In Cantu’s 2010 plan it called for a two-story city hall building that also would house the police department along with basement parking for police and city vehicles. There also was a nearby two-story 28,000-square-foot library, and a single story 8,000 foot DMV building. All three would be surrounded by parking.
His vision today doesn’t include a library or DMV at that location while the city hall/police department structure would likely have to be larger.
Cantu also would not look at city hall needs in a vacuum. He said once the city hall is moved back downtown the civic center could be converted into a community center for recreational classes and activities anchored by the senior center. He noted the council chambers could be converted to a small performing arts center.
“It wouldn’t be real big but you’ve got to start somewhere,” Cantu added.
He would upgrade and modernize the library at its current location.
“We’ve got to stop thinking about Manteca as a farm town,” Cantu said. “It is growing into a small city.”
Cantu noted while the city has land along Wetmore Avenue that is considered part of the downtown central district within a block south of the former bean company site, it is too narrow to accommodate the needed footprint of a new city hall.
“It may take a while to buy the land but it will be worth it to do it right,” Cantu said.
Manteca’s first city hall — a 52 by 84 square foot two-story brick building dedicated on Nov. 2, 1923 — in the 100 block of Sycamore Avenue and is across Manteca Avenue from Library Park is still standing.
It served the city’s needs until 1978 when the first phase of the current civic center was completed,
In 2006 the city commissioned a needs assessment for city hall space that came up with a preliminary design that had two- to three- story buildings being constructed on site at a cost estimated back then at $20 million.
Cantu believes the city doesn’t need to hire a consultant to determine city hall space needs.
“It’s not rocket science,” the mayor said.
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