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Austin Road: Platinum standard for SJ Valley?
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Spreckels Avenue is Manteca’s street of the future.

Naysayers doubted it would ever be built let alone set the Northern San Joaquin Valley gold standard for development.

It is along this four-lane road that cuts through the site of the former 15-story Spreckels Sugar silos that you will find things once thought impossible for Manteca to obtain:
• Head-of-household jobs with companies not tied to seasonal agricultural ebb and flows including Ford Motor Co. with its United Auto Workers pay scale and benefits.
• Extensive screening of industrial uses - primarily distribution - with landscaped berms lined with large sycamore trees that haven’t even reached a third of their ultimate height.
• A separated bike path with landscaping that exceeds anything else you’ll find in the northern valley.
• Private financing of public art in the form of the $300,000 Spreckels Historical Park by AKF Development complete with four pseudo sugar silos fashioned from a large culvert pipe that was stood on its end.
• Retail projects where landscaping - read that trees - aren’t stunted or butchered all in the name of giving maximum exposure to signs.
• A park/storm basin that takes the mixed use to the next level with a rare in-the-heart-of-a-community BMX track.
• Construction of a full-scale cancer center that effectively will give Manteca health care capabilities that are unheard of in valley communities under 200,000 residents.

It was made possible not by bureaucratic decree or government intervention. It was made possible by private sector vision wed with a cooperative city leadership.

It has set the standard that is being used for business park development elsewhere in Manteca including Center Point and Austin Road Business Park.

Austin Road Business Park has long been dubbed “Spreckels Park II” by Mike Atherton. He is part of the consortium of local investors and developers shepherding Manteca’s “next big thing” covering 1,049 acres with the potential of adding 13,000 jobs and expanding city’s population by 10,200 residents.

Developers aren’t saviors nor or they the devil incarnate. They are business people who practice the art of the deal and deliver goods which, in the case of AKF that has had a hand in everything from Spreckels Park and The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley to Del Webb at Woodbridge, has molded the foundation for Manteca in the 21st century.

While Atherton likes to be called “coach” by his development team. he also wants to try and emulate the positive impacts his grandfather Warren Atherton had on others via the fashioning of the GI Bill of Rights and his great-grandfather Benjamin Holt had on the economy of the valley. Atherton and his colleagues are first and foremost businessmen.

Good business means providing a good product. It is something that the other most visible part of the Austin Road Business Park group - Raymus Homes run by siblings Toni and Bob Raymus - has done as well. Neither AKF nor Raymus are flash-in-the-pan developers. They understand what they build today will add value to what they build tomorrow. In other words they - as well as the community - profit more by doing things right.

AKF resisted temptations to cheapen Spreckels Park. The landscaping went forth in a day when they council minority didn’t want to do anything that would encumber the private or public sector to maintain.

AKF went ahead and did it anyway creating a private landscape maintenance district that outshines any similar private or public endeavor in the valley.

Not many developers would fork over $300,000 to create a sentimental monument to a long-gone employer that was Manteca’s backbone and face for almost 75 years.

It doesn’t make them perfect nor should the city turn the keys of Manteca over to them.

It just needs to be made clear that all of the right things that happened at Spreckels Park that the city is now requiring others to do were put in place at the insistence of the developers and not the city.

The AKF partnership - specifically Bill Filios - deserves credit for planting the idea with former Congressman Richard Pombo that federal funding was justified for the Yosemite/99 interchange overhaul. It wasn’t even on Caltrans’s 20-year plan at that time. Undoubtedly it would have been part of the Highway 99 upgrades but Manteca will have had it in place a full 10 years ahead of that project being done.

The AKF and Raymus track record and way of doing business is why the Austin Road Business Park proposal hasn’t created an uproar. Still, it is up to city leadership to make sure that not only are the best development guidelines put in place for the project but that they are followed through.

If done right, Austin Road Business Park will emerge as the platinum standard for the Northern San Joaquin Valley.