Mayor Ben Cantu has a point.
Perhaps Manteca should consider purchasing the old Qualex photo processing building essentially from itself on Industrial Park Drive as well as a parcel fronting South Main Street between the B.R. Funsten Flooring Distribution Center and the Extra Space Storage business.
At the same time if the city looked more than a year ahead and combined the parcel with land where city public works functions are located along Wetmore Street that will be moving to the wastewater treatment plant on West Yosemite Avenue that could open the door for future options as the city grows that includes a critically needed new Manteca Police station, a transit village surrounding the transit station that will have ACE commuter service by 2023 and possibly even a new city hall. These aren’t far-fetched scenarios given Manteca with 81,450 residents today is on pace if the annual numeric growth stays steady — which means the growth rate would actually have to steadily decline — to have at more than 105,000 residents by 2040. That makes the concept of a robust city center or downtown even more viable.
First, examine the possibility of the two RDA properties.
Both were purchased with Manteca Redevelopment Agency money — the 55,000-square-foot building for $3.6 million and the 8.1-acre site along Main Street for $2.6 million. The RDA, funded with diverted tax dollars gleaned from a large swatch of Manteca taxpayers, was disbanded by the state during the Great Recession. Any RDA owned property that didn’t have a viable committed use by cities that had formed redevelopment agencies had to be put up for sale to the highest bidder with the proceeds split by the state, city and other involved taxing agencies.
The odds are the bidding process won’t generate as much money as the Manteca RDA used to purchase the properties. It is why it might make sense to do what Cantu has suggested.
Cantu believes it should be considered for use as a homeless resource center. Councilman Gary Singh noted that some organizations dealing with the homeless have considered doing just that. Given a non-profit has been advised by real estate professionals that the bidding may be lackluster enough that they could possibly afford to purchase it should give elected leaders pause.
Obviously the best option is for someone to buy the two properties and turn them into viable community assets as employment centers. Given the checkered history of the former Indy Electronics-Alphatec-Turnkey Solutions building directing directly across from Qualex that has been abandoned since the late 1990s the odds are it won’t happen.
So what are some of the reasons why Manteca would — at first glance — want to throw good money after bad money and not simply kiss good-bye the $10 million or so burden that the city via the RDA encumbered a large number of owners of Manteca homes and commercial concerns to retire the RDA bonds used for the purchase and subsequent interests costs over a period of 30 years of which there are still at least 15 years left before the debt is retired?
First assume the Qualex building is useful as a homeless resource center. Manteca leaders would be in a better position to put parameters on how it could be used as such by leasing the property to non-profits. Let’s not beat around the proverbial bush. Given state dictates on zoning laws they’d be nothing stopping a non-profit from turning the structure into a full-fledged 24-7 homeless shelter if they so desired. A public/non-profit partnership would allow the city to set a lease that would not allow a full-blown drop-in homeless shelter but it could make it easier for a non-profit to establish a functional homeless resource center with the capability of being an emergency warming or cooling center and used for housing for homeless enrolled in specific structured programs to get the off the streets.
The property along South Main Street was originally purchased for a South County criminal justice center with satellite Superior Court departments, offices for the district attorney and public defender, and space for a new police station. That went to the wayside when the court system opted instead to pursue the new 13-story downtown Stockton courthouse. The Qualex building was seen as a less expensive way to secure additional police station space via remodeling back in 2004.
The parcel facing South Main could easily become a site for a new city hall/police station with the current Civic Center converted to community center uses as Cantu has suggested. It’s a slightly different twist on Cantu’s vision for a downtown city hall. But instead of shoe horning such a move at relatively limited sites that might be available that in turn might create insurmountable parking problems, by going two blocks south of the edge of downtown there would be space plus the ability to create synergy for private sector development that is now limited to existing storefronts or the need to buy property and demolish structures to get any major momentum jumpstarted.
Given the parcel along Main Street almost borders the current solid waste department operation that is targeted to relocate to the wastewater treatment plant within the next few years they’d be plenty of space for parking to support a city hall/police department complex.
It would provide the city land and a centralized location on a major corridor.
The beauty of the purchases married with soon-to-be abandoned public works functions is the fact it would allow a second option.
The city will be able to assemble a sizable parcel of land that — if connected to the city abandoning a segment of Wetmore Street that would still allow access to private concerns via Mellon Avenue to Industrial Park Drive (there primary access route now) — could create an option for the city to shop for private developers to create a transit village at Manteca’s heart.
Imagine what a thousand or so condos, townhouses, apartments and such that close to downtown could do for its future. The appeal for developers is a viable transit village site given it is next to the transit center that will have direct commuter train service to San Jose and Sacramento starting in 2023 with service via Valley Link to Oakland and San Francisco further down the line. It might not pencil out today for a developer but give the Bay Area and Manteca another 10 years or so with the city dangling a land package with a prime location and you could have the answer to taking downtown Manteca to the cutting edge when it comes to providing a city center for dining, entrainment, specialty shopping, and for community gatherings.
Manteca’s elected leaders need to weigh the possibilities. It might just make sense to bid on those two RDA properties not necessarily for the homeless resource center espoused by the mayor but for a vision that he and others have been kicking around to restore downtown to its glory days of being the functioning heart of Manteca in a manner that is clearly anchored in the future and not weighted down by past realities.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.