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Manteca takes another run at downtown
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 If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
The current Manteca City Council could become the latest group of elected leaders dating back to at least 1964 who have tried to jump start efforts to revitalize downtown when they ponder a proposal Tuesday  to spend $102,950 on general fund money to hire a consulting firm to lay the groundwork for a central Manteca rebirth.
This time around the tact will be slightly different. The consulting firm of Opticos Design will do the usual downtown assessment. But they will also recommend how to approach cobbling together a downtown specific plan tied to a form-based code.
Getting a plan in place and starting a coordinated private and public sector effort to make physical changes in downtown to enhance its appeal and use as a commercial and entertainment center for Manteca is a priority for the council.
City Manager Karen McLaughlin in a memo to the council noted “the city” has worked previously with downtown business and property owners to assist in revitalization efforts; however, those efforts have not achieved the desired results due to various factors, including lack of interest from a some downtown property owners, lack of available funding to make physical improvements and, probably most important, a lack of shared vision for what the downtown should be. The loss of public parking formerly funded by the RDA has further impacted the viability of downtown businesses. While efforts have stalled in the past, there has been a renewed interest from City Council, the downtown community, private business investors, and the Chamber of Commerce to reinvest in the downtown area in order to realize the great opportunity that exists.”
 McLaughlin believes that in order to get a plan in place that will succeed, “it is imperative to first understand the current environment, uses and opportunities that exist in the downtown area.”
That will require reviewing the current downtown footprint, assessment of previous efforts for improvement, public outreach with key stakeholders, and an accurate understanding of the current market.
The goal is to possibly use the initial assessment to develop a strategy forward creating a Downtown Specific Plan including an assessment of the city’s own codes and their impact on either encouraging or impeding successful development of downtown. An  actual specific plan might be developed after the assessment is made and presented to the council.
The study is being paid for with residual receipts the city receives on former Redevelopment Agency property tax revenues.
 The first concerted effort to improve the downtown area started 52 years ago in July 1964. The effort was initiated by the Manteca Downtown Business and Property Owners Association.
Some $12,000 in federal money and $4,000 in city taxes were spent to create the first  in what would end up over the years being a series of downtown design studies. That study touched on design guidelines for downtown building facades and rear entrances, signs, parking areas, street furniture, and landscaping.
The most successful of the subsequent downtown plans was part of the Vision 2020 plan put together in 1998 for the entire community. The document was crafted to lay out  what the community wanted to have in place by the year 2020 in terms of economic growth, jobs, housing inventory, roads, amenities such as a library and performing arts center, and a revitalized downtown.
What came out of that endeavor for downtown before it ran out of gas was:
uThe adoption of downtown streetscape standards for furniture, street lights, and such that resulted in the end of the 19th-century style traffic signals, street lights, and items such as benches and trash receptacles.
The placement of street landscaping bulbs.
The expansion and upgrade of Library Park that included restrooms and the interactive water play future.
The Manteca mural project.
Locating the transit station and designing it as such to serve as a downtown anchor by having plenty of space for community gatherings.
Vision 2020 did lead to some façade improvements on downtown buildings.
The biggest private sector investment that came out of the effort was converting the fire gutted El Rey Theatre into Kelly Brothers Brewing Company & Brickyard Oven Restaurant that has since been shuttered. The effort lead to some changes in parking rules that allowed the conversion of the former mortuary on Center Street into a health spa and enabled property to be sold for uses such as a Chinese restaurant since property use was no longer restricted by what was already in place or a use that required even less parking.
The City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.