The width of sidewalks in the 100 and 200 blocks of West Yosemite — the marquee section of downtown — could be pivotal in snaring investment needed to create more of a gathering place and improving the central district’s future.
The need to explore wider sidewalks which means either narrowing travel lanes if that is possible or eliminating on street parking was tossed out as a potential starting point for downtown last week by members of the city’s Economic Development Committee.
The committee — charged with devising a game plan to bolster business and job development throughout Manteca — has opted to focus on downtown first. The council appointed committee that includes Mayor Steve DeBrum believes it is essential Manteca has a strong downtown as gathering place social center, and business district as the city grows. That, in turn, will contribute to the economic, cultural, and even social well-being of the rest of the city.
Downtown is roughly at the epicenter of Manteca with the city’s two premier business corridors — Main Street and Yosemite Avenue — intersecting. There is significant commercial activity in all “four corners of Manteca” after you drive in either direction on Main or Yosemite from downtown.
The emphasis on traffic movement especially in the 100 and 200 blocks of West Yosemite that is essentially the face of downtown to many people may be a limiting factor in attracting the type of private sector investment needed to draw restaurants, entertainment venues, and even additional unique shops people over the years contend they want to see.
The two blocks also connect the two key gathering places in downtown — Library Park and the Manteca Transit Center.
The sidewalks were widened in spots in 2005 to accommodate bulb outs for enhanced landscaping, benches, and other streetscape elements.
That said they aren’t wide enough to accommodate outdoor dining that has been a driving factor in the conversion of old storefronts into trendy restaurants, coffee shops, and low-key entertainment venues in downtown such as Turlock, Modesto, Lodi, Pleasanton, and Livermore.
Over the years proposals to open everything from a steak house in what is now a hair styling concern on the northwest corner of Maple and Yosemite to a casual dining spot on the south side of the 200 block of West Yosemite was stymied when proponents were unable to obtain clearance from the city to have what they felt was adequate sidewalk dining secured by decorative wrought iron fencing they believed would be essential to a successful restaurant.
The fact the two blocks do not have as much setback from the street as in other older downtowns that have been successfully turned into gathering places has long been viewed as a stumbling block.
Eliminating parking and narrowing lanes in those two blocks to “slow” traffic could add up to five feet of sidewalk.
And while the committee has indicated wider sidewalks is something that needs to be explored, they want any concerted effort to try and transform downtown be led by those with the biggest stakes — property owners and businesses.
In the past the city would hire a consultant that would come in with a boilerplate list of things downtowns need and then would direct public input to fashion a plan. Each time it resulted in a plan being completed that went nowhere except for the last effort. The Vision 2020 endeavor led to the Tidewater style street lights, upgraded pavers, landscaping, two mini-plazas (one on maple and one in front of the American Legion hall), the transit center with a community room and outdoor gathering place, the expanded Library Park, and the mural project.
To build on that the city is trying to determine what the stakeholders — property owners, businesses, and the community — want to see first, and then hire experts that may be needed to help come up with strategies that can be executed.
The economic committee’s recommendations will ultimately go to the city council on various endeavors around Manteca.
The council then could decide to move forward with them by accessing the economic development reserve that was capped at $2.5 million under a policy adopted in July.
The money is the city’s share of property tax that would have gone to the redevelopment agency. Without the RDA that money would have continued to flow to the general fund between the mid-1980s when the agency was formed and until it was disbanded several years ago by the state.
When the economic revitalization fund was created, the annual RDA residual was $800,000 a year. It is now at $1.2 million a year and will continue to grow as property values increase on impacted properties that were once part of the RDA.
Under the new council reserve policy excess money coming from the residual tax from property in the former RDA boundaries will go into undesignated reserves when the economic development reserve reaches $2.5 million in a given fiscal year.
That means the city has an ongoing fund they can use to undertake projects whether it is widening sidewalks to encourage the development of restaurants with al fresco dining or investing in other projects designed to stimulate investment and create jobs in existing areas of the city.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com