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Manteca goes to work for small businesses
This portion of the Center Appliance warehouse is being torn down as part of the interchange project. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The new Highway 99 interchange at Lathrop Road was anything but good news for 17 small businesses in Manteca.

Caltrans needed their property for the interchange that is part of the $496 million project that gets underway this spring to widen the freeway to six lanes from the 120 Bypass to the Cross-town Freeway in Stockton.

While Caltrans paid fair market value for their property and has a financial program to assist businesses with moving expenses, the state agency was on a tight time schedule. Initially a number of the businesses could not find space or facilities in Manteca land use zones that would accommodate their operations. Several - including longtime Manteca concern Center Appliances that has been a part of the business community for over 60 years - were seriously considering moving out of town.

That was before the City of Manteca’s Economic Development Director Don Smail interceded to help the businesses find solutions. In the end, Manteca will retain 16 of the 17 businesses. The only concern lost was Manteca Transmissions that has moved to Stockton.

Caltrans needed to take a sizeable swath of the Center Appliance warehouse and showroom complex to widen North Main Street to four lanes and create on and off ramps for the new interchange.

“We couldn’t find any other property in Manteca that would accommodate our business,” noted Frank Fiore of Center Appliance.

That prompted Fiore to start looking outside Manteca. Just as they were negotiating a lease to move, Smail contacted Fiore. It was determined Center Appliance could build additional space on their site facing Crestwood but the standard review process didn’t work with the timetable that Caltrans gave Center Appliance to vacate their property for demolition.

Smail negotiated an extension with Caltrans and then worked with Fiore by walking the plans for the new construction through the review process so it wouldn’t run into any delays. The weather has also cooperated allowing Center Appliance to hold to a June move in deadline.

Fiore praised Smail’s efforts as well as Community Development Director Frederic Clark and Jim Stone in the Public Works Department.

“They made it happen,” Fiore said of the city staff.

Gear Head Motorcycle repair had a different problem.

The city had no existing zone that accommodates motorcycle repair.

So Smail sat down with the community development staff and reviewed various zones. After determining that noise wasn’t problem and that the work they did was compatible with uses allowed in existing zones, they issued a use permit that allowed the concern to move into a small business park on West Yosemite Avenue across from the wastewater treatment plant.

A-1 Smog Shop owned by Casey Tinnin was another one of the challenges.

They couldn’t find any suitable space as well. But in working with the city they were able to find a place off Maple Avenue in downtown. The city staff determined it didn’t pose problems for an adjoining beauty salon. Tinnin is now preparing to reopen May 1.

“They (the city) were a big help,” Tinnin said.

Smail is confident the new location will work even better for the smog shop. Instead of being away from activity on North Main Street, the location downtown afford customers to grab lunch, shop or run other errands while their vehicle is smogged.

Smail noted that Caltrans willing worked with the city to find solutions while keeping within their time schedule.

“There is a UCLA study that shows it is four times more expensive for a community to create a new job that it is to keep one,” Smail said.

There are other examples of how the city’s economic development director can help small business.

When Casino Real wanted to open a banquet room in another part of the former Valley Cinema complex, they ran into a problem. The building code required more toilets in the restrooms than there was space for and still make the banquet room that also serves as a meeting hall viable. Smail went to work. Staff determined that if there were just two bathrooms with one toilet apiece inside the banquet facility that the code could be met by having signs installed that directed the overflow to restrooms in the adjacent lobby that can be through an interior passage.

Casino Real manager Dennis Williams said the additional bathroom requirement could have killed the banquet room plans.

“We were pleased with how the city helped,’ Williams said.

Smail said it is all part of a city effort to follow the spirit of the rules and not always the letter of the rule.

“If there is a way to accommodate something and meet (the intent of standards) then we try to do it,” Smail said.

Retention effort saved  103 jobs, large chunk of sales tax for city in 2009

The most high profile business retention effort occurred in 2009.

B.F. Funsten was preparing to close up shop in Manteca and move to bigger quarters in Stockton. Thanks to an intervention from then City Manager Steve Pinkerton that helped clarify erroneous fee information coupled with a fast track commitment to get an addition done - B.F. Funsten not only stayed in Manteca but expanded.

Owner Jim Funsten was not only impressed with “the team work” between the City of Manteca and his firm but added at the ground breaking in 2009 that “I have never seen it work so well.”

Funsten’s lease for another distribution they operated under the Tom C. Duffy name was nearing the end of its lease in Fairfield. They had – after being told by a private sector engineer that Manteca’s fees were going to be in excess of $1 million for what they needed – located a site in Stockton and were preparing to buy the building when city leaders noticed the for sale sign in front of their 108,000-square-foot Manteca location at South Main Street and Industrial Park Drive.

Not only did Pinkerton provide the correct fee information – it ended up being less than $400,000 – but he also got a firm commitment from key city departments to make sure the 86,000-square-foot addition to the warehouse and 6,500 square-foot addition to the office will be able to be completed within five months. The approval process alone was squeezed into four months instead of the usual 18 month.

The bottom line meant 130 Manteca jobs weren’t lost nor did the city lose a large source of municipal sales tax.