History really does repeat itself.
Wednesday’s Manteca history column that Marion Elliott has been gleaning from back issues of the Bulletin for decades made three references to the most maligned, beloved, trafficked, and studied neighborhood in Manteca — downtown.
As luck would have it, examples of the three things Manteca has been doing over and over again since the early 1960s were listed.
*The development of grandiose plans such as in 1980 to rethink downtown.
*The ripping out of improvements made previously in a bid to enhance downtown that weren’t maintained and drew the collective ire of the community such as the removal of crosswalk pavers in 1990.
*A staff or council generated effort to come up with solutions without lining the pockets of consultants such as occurred in 2014.
Call me a pessimist — although I’d argue I’m being more of a realist or pragmatist — but the nice consultant the city now has on retainer from Retail Solutions will do no better than anyone before her. It’s not that her firm that has the added touch of working with a real estate concern that tries to match up potential businesses with space in the cities Real Estate Solutions assists hasn’t met with success elsewhere.
It’s just that people have a horrible tendency to see what they want to see.
One of the absolute hardest concerns to get to locate in a community today is brick and mortar banks and similar financial institutions.
There are seven in downtown Manteca. One is Financial Center Credit Union that took over an existing bank building in the 1990s that it was not involved with either through a merger or an acquisition. A decade later Golden Valley Credit Union moved into downtown and built a new building. This past decade Oak Valley Community Bank opened a branch in downtown.
Three “new” financial institutions put down roots in downtown while supposedly in death throes for the past 30 years. Pretty amazing stuff given the downtowns that people swoon over that are west of the Altamont Pass rarely have one bank let alone seven.
They also, for the most part, don’t have a series of thriving ethnic markets and stores, a modern laundromat, two vibrant social halls, one let alone four furniture stores, a transit center, a library, a main post office, nor are located along the spine of a separated bicycle trail that actually connects neighborhoods and parks.
Rest assured the pandemic is a seismic event that will shift the commercial sector. It is expected to accelerate the movement to online that will chill brick and mortar investment. Manteca’s saving grace is the fact solid residential growth will continue to make the city appealing to do business especially when coupled with a 10-mile trading market with 130,000 consumers and growing. That doesn’t mean commercial investments going gang busters. It means they will continue to happen for the foreseeable future.
The pandemic also has revealed a truth about downtown. It is still essential. That’s based on the businesses considered essential by government decree to stay open despite the requirement to stay at home and to practice social distancing.
The biggest investment now taking place in downtown of more than $1 million being spent to create a stunning events center to breathe a third vibrant life into the grand dame of theaters — the El Rey — that was built and opened at the depth of the Great Depression underscores two things that folks such as Retail Solutions don’t see in a whirlwind visit that assumes downtown Manteca is simply another square peg to fit into a square hole.
The first is that downtown Manteca is a vibrant community events center. Between the two FESM halls and the MRPS complex a weekend — the present situation aside — doesn’t go by that there aren’t one or two large gatherings downtown.
Now ask yourself a question and be honest with your answer. Do you really think seven banks and three events centers could survive or let alone thrive in a downtown that was on its last legs?
Yes, there are homeless issues the city needs to address. The city also has to hold up its end of the bargain and take care of their property which they are doing a better job of now that they have finally started pressure washing pavers.
The bottom line is downtown is healthy. It is a place that people who may not fit nicely into the commuter mold go to purchase staples that we classify as ethnic food and products. It is a place where people do their financial transactions, get their hair styled, buy furniture, do their laundry, drop off a package to mail, and check out books.
What it is not is the Mission Ridge Shopping Center anchored by Walmart.
It also is not Livermore or Pleasanton.
But then we should be thankful for that.
If it got to the point where we had a downtown that emulated Pleasanton you’d need the social-economics to justify such a private sector investment. Good luck renting an apartment under $2,500 or buying a home — even a resale — for under $800,000 when that happens in Manteca.
A few years back the downtown merchants and property owners working with the Manteca Chamber of Commerce and the city came up with a framework that provided unique zoning and rules aimed at slowly changing downtown’s core that also made it possible in other areas of the central district for projects that will add strength over the years with ground level commercial space and housing above.
This takes time.
The best way the city can make it happen is to cut red tape for permitting processes and such. It also happens to be the same medicine needed to help entice development elsewhere in Manteca. The city can also keep its properties in appealing shape and to program more community events into public spaces such as the transit center and Library Park.
As for major undertakings, this current council needs to focus its energies in making sure the best foot is put forward with its impending promise of making Main Street four lanes through downtown.
This may involve incorporating Mayor Ben Cantu’s suggestion for a public space on the corner of Yosemite and Main — a mini plaza that serves as a tribute to veterans.
It also could involve following up on the suggestions of council members Debby Moorhead and Gary Singh along with Cantu to add additional decorative street lights along Main Street north of Center Street.
They could even insist the project involve placing narrow curbside planters along Main Street to add color.
Manteca has spent more than 50 years approaching downtown as if it is takeoff on the movie “50 First Dates” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.
At least in the movie amnesia figured into the equation as opposed to selective memory that prompts leaders in Manteca to do the same thing over and over again and somehow keep expecting a different outcome.