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City investments do not help downtown
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

The term “people” as it applies to Downtown includes, mothers and children frequenting the library park water feature, the homeless, drunks, visitors to the occasional festival, customers, and motorists traveling through downtown; and luring each of these “types” of people affects the economic viability of Downtown differently, some positive and some negative.

The ongoing $1.2 million Library Park improvements certainly enhances the visual appeal of downtown, but does not improve the economic viability or lure customers to downtown.  The $2.1 million animal shelter and $6.1 million transit station will not lure customers to downtown.  The $3.1 million old-fashioned streetlights and sidewalk pavers do not lure customers.  The $300,000 and $1 million trees, pavers, and alley improvements made about 20 and 30 years ago did not lure customers.  The Tidewater Bikeway does not lure customers.  Essentially, city hall has “invested” about $15 million in Downtown over a period of 40 years in uncoordinated cosmetic and unassociated improvements, not part of a comprehensive long-term economic development effort.  On the other hand, city hall has invested just in the past 15 years over $90 million in new commercial development (not including industrial development investments), with another possible $50 million to be tossed at the Great Wolf Resort development and the Lowe’s project.

(Editor’s note: City officials indicate the real number is $30 million for infrastructure that helped spur commercial and business park development. They have made loans to numerous businesses that have been repaid such as Mountain Valley, Tubb’s Electric, Kelley Brothers, and Manteca Veterinary Clinic and have provided a number of store improvement grants that have also gone to downtown businesses. Overall, the RDA investment surpasses $90 million but that includes a significant number of affordable housing projects as well as $30 million for Big League Dreams sports complex. As far as Great Wolf, the city hasn’t gotten to the point of discussing RDA numbers at all. The city also could not afford to invest $50 million if they wanted as they will be down to $60 million left after projects now underway including affordable housing and that does not include the state payment of over $4 million. As far as Lowe’s the company has not been in contact with the city for two years and has indicated they will not consider building in Manteca until the economy makes a major turnaround. That project never has - and according to city staff - never will qualify for RDA funding of any type.)

Without argument, the millions of dollars invested in new development have resulted in appreciable fiscal returns to the community; however, that same principle can apply to Downtown as well.  No matter which side of the issue one stands, the reality is that the presently seated City Council and past Councils have not viewed Downtown with the same economic investment fervor directed at new development, and have thus facilitated its gradual economic decline over decades.  The historic leadership pattern of out-of-sight, out-of-mind, or paltry offerings continues to be perpetuated today with no positive sign of change forthcoming.

Highlighting fresh paint and a few positive downtown business achievements by the private sector are a very different measure of investment in the face of over 175 downtown businesses and vacant storefronts over a couple of decades.  

Benjamin Cantu
Aug. 16, 2011