How do you get more people downtown?
First, you stop acting as if there is no reason that exists today for anyone to go downtown.
Second, you build on what is already in place to give people additional reasons to go downtown.
Third, you stop acting as if the absolutely most important thing is hammering together a grandiose plan before doing anything else.
Fourth, you stop crying wolf because all you end up doing is keeping people away. Downtown may have a lot of issues but one of them is not being dead.
Fifth, everyone needs to concede downtown can never be a traditional retail center or emulate Walmart or the Stadium Retail Center unless you leveled 20 or so square blocks, erect new buildings, create gigantic parking lots and replace Main Street with a freeway with easy to access ramps.
And finally the city needs to take the lead on this one. That doesn’t mean to tell people what to do or how things ultimately should play out even though you eventually need a plan that is fine tuned. The reason they need to do so is they are not only the largest property owner with an obligation to maximize taxpayer investments but they have been pandering for years to the clear hunger the community has for a town center.
So where does the city start? They could begin by watching the “Wizard of Oz”. Instead of moaning and groaning about what they think they don’t have they need to look at what they have and put it to use instead of letting it wither and atrophy.
Manteca — on purpose, by spending $14 million, and in consultation with downtown merchants and community members — has done the following:
*They built a transit center with a deliberate decision to build a large meeting/event room and an outdoor plaza with the intent for it to serve as a community gathering place.
*They expanded and upgraded Library Park with the intent to make it the de facto town square or simply a community gathering place.
*They assisted with the mural project to bring public art to downtown.
*They installed pavers, mini-plazas, streetscape, and appealing street lights and traffic signals.
The city needs to unilaterally leverage the $14 million they spent to breathe life into downtown as Manteca’s cultural center and gathering place. Once they do that, the chances are good the private sector will get on board. And even if they don’t, the city will not have spent $14 million in vain.
So how does Manteca do this? First they need to spend anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 on an annual basis. This will allow them to:
*Hire an events coordinator to specifically develop cultural and entertainment events in downtown at municipal venues by expanding greatly on their food court effort.
The coordinator could work with the school district and program a 45-minute music concert weekly on a Wednesday evening in either the transit center or gazebo depending on the time of year. Given there are 12 elementary schools with choirs and bands in town and there high schools with 15 music programs between them there is obviously plenty of ways to fill a venue.
They could also work with the schools for a demo night showcasing the work of fine arts and vocational arts.
The coordinator would work with community groups ranging from the Society for Creative Anarchism and the Mayors Committee on the Arts to Scouting to conduct stand-alone “mini” programs and/or shows.
This accomplishes two things. It showcases community recreational/cultural offerings and exposes residents to endeavors they can join that exist in Manteca.
The coordinator also would work to expand the food court and perhaps stage a special event once a month of some sort whether it is a live band or working with some group to have an open event such as a mini-Greek food festival as opposed to standard dinner fundraiser at the transit center.
Programming events at the transit center that involves or includes the outdoor plaza is extremely important given its high profile location at Main and Moffat.
*Make incremental improvements to city property such as buying perhaps a half dozen or a dozen decorative concrete planters each year to add to the sidewalks. It could also include a budget for annuals.
The events coordinator could work with the Manteca Garden Club and other groups to “adopt” planters to actually plant them, weed them, clean them, and — if need be — water them. It would not only beautify downtown further but it would get more community buy into downtown.
*Put in place twice a year efforts by the city to power wash pavers in crosswalks and sidewalks as well as replace Band-Aid fixes over the years where broken pavers were replaced with asphalt or concrete instead of actual pavers.
The city has never cleaned the pavers since they were installed 16 years ago. You’d look pretty dingy too if you’ve never been cleaned up.
Programming weeknight activities as well as on the weekend is a nod to where the demographics are in Manteca. Unlike Lodi, Livermore, or Pleasanton the biggest market in Manteca are families where the at least one parent has a killer or a borderline killer commute and are more likely to have kids. That makes trendy weeknight dining downtown a tough nut to crack although that will change in time as Manteca grows. On the weekend those families are absorbed in activities with the kids and/or getting in weekly shopping.
An effective events coordinator would create options that would appeal not just to the 900-pound gorilla of Manteca’s demographics but also others from senior citizens to those without school-aged children. It may not be the trendy stuff you see in Livermore and Pleasanton and think you want here but it will be stuff that works here.
The city has already made a sizable investment in downtown facilities and such. Instead of letting it sit empty, be underutilized, or allowed to get dirtier with each passing year they need to make use of the venues and clean up their act.
The problem, quite frankly, aren’t the dozens upon dozens of merchants, banks and services that for the most part are doing OK, but the inattentive property owners.
And topping that list of inattentive property owners is the City of Manteca.
It’s not Bucktooth Billiards, but if a private sector investor spent $8 million on a majestic building and except for bureaucratic office space it was used only for six hours top during a week they’d be all sorts of howling and screaming.
A transit station — as reflected by the Lathrop/Manteca ACE station that is the second busiest for boarding on the commuter line — only needs a platform, ticket machine, and parking. The transit center as built was done so to serve as a vibrant community center to anchor downtown and be a landmark complete with clock tower.
The downtown events coordinator could have their office in the transit center along with Manteca Transit.
The same issue of underuse applies to Library Park. The $1.2 million to expand and upgrade it wasn’t spent on the idea it would serve as a neighborhood park but would be a community park for cultural and entertainment endeavors. That, by the way, is a perfect complement for the Manteca Library that also has a community room that isn’t exactly overbooked.
It’s time to stop playing the same old record over and over again in downtown and realize that what we have is not a stereo player or an app based music system but something in between — perhaps a CD player — that needs the right type of programming to make it sing.